The next generation of seafarers are spoiled, require constant stimulation, unbroken contact with friends and family and are unimpressed by traditional means of learning and appraisal. That’s one conclusion of the Nautical Institute’s latest piece of research into Generation Y seafarers.
From the other end of the telescope, Gen-Y are enquiring, enthusiastic, engaged and eager to learn and be informed, though lack the corporate loyalty of previous generations.
Stephen Gosling was not at last week’s Global VSAT Forum to unveil a shiny product or talk about the future of satellite communications, but rather to talk about the needs, wants and ideas of a very specific bunch of mariners.
In the western world, Gen-Y is generally agreed to have been born between 1981 and 1999 and so is comprised of teenagers and young people lately arrived in the workforce.
Tasked with expanding Gen-Y membership and increasing understanding of their needs and aspirations, Gosling, the Nautical Institute’s Training & Quality Manager, developed a programme to meet and survey as many as he could. Person-to-person interviews with 100 Gen-Y sea staff were followed up with branch focus groups and an online survey.
His results made for a fascinating presentation – a welcome relief from the hardware of satellite communications and its endless acronyms. Gen-Y is the humanware that will staff the ships of the future and it is clear that the increased bandwidth and always-on communications promised by VSAT will be essential to attracting and retaining them.
Image courtesy of Edwin de Jongh
“Gen-Y are bright, they are not shy of challenge. They need to be stimulated and to see opportunities. They are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them,” Gosling declared. “They are motivated by outcomes and rewards; they need feedback and want their managers to be involved. The concept of the cadet as being seen and not heard is as far from their experience as one can imagine.”
Most Gen-Ys will expect to have a zig-zag career, unafraid to jump ship seeking individual achievement and betterment. A portfolio career is simply part of the process of making transitions, but their work-life balance is important; employers must offer them flexible working and the company that acknowledges their interests off ship will gain their loyalty. As Gosling put it: “The first rule of retention is to listen to them.”
As if it was needed, he reminded delegates that this is ‘the spoilt generation’, one which in some countries are known as ‘little emperors’, happiest when they feel they are being listened to and respected. In return, Gosling said, they will perform at their best but they like context and to see the big picture and role they play within it. Blindly following orders is unlikely to be attractive.
When it comes to technology, they are even more of a handful. Gosling described sitting a Gen-Y cadet down in front of an Inmarsat-C unit (the legacy unit used for sending distress and telex messages) as ‘suicide’.
“Gen-Y is tech savvy, well connected to technology for information and communication. The web fuels their hunger for easily accessible data and research for work and social purposes,” Gosling continued. Broadband is becoming more and more available at sea, but one wonders if there is enough satellite bandwidth to satisfy Gen-Y.
“This is the gaming generation which works things out for themselves. Put a master and a cadet in front of an ECDIS and while the master is looking for the power button, the cadet has plotted a course and had a coffee,” Gosling declared. I later asked him if he was joking and all I got in return was a wistful smile. I suspect it reflects reality onboard some ships.
Most of all it is social media that dominates. This collision of technology and networking has created ‘a perpetual need to be connected to friends and family and colleagues’, according to Gosling. Generation X-ers like myself get social media, even if we aren’t very good at it. Gen-Y has something close to a genuine addiction.
Gosling cited a study where a group of American 11-17 year olds had their social media access blocked for seven days. The subjects exhibited something called Facebook depression, negative symptoms akin to alcohol or tobacco withdrawal. “Now imagine having that blocked for four months at a time. It’s not a great prospect for those considering a maritime career,” he added.
Gen-Y’s technology addiction is not all bad, despite what their parents might think. Technology plays a big role in professional development, helping them keep up to date using a variety of sources. Gen-Y prefer to use the web and web-based services to connect to their peer network and sources that appeal to their emotional intelligence. They need feedback, they welcome coaching and mentoring, but formal Continual Personal Development is an unfamiliar concept.
“We can say that Gen Y is confident, ambitious and savvy. They thrive on instant connectivity and they depend on connections to keep up. Their needs and aspirations are for real-time communications and modern technology, to seek and exchange information and connect with friends, colleagues and family.”
As Gosling pointed out, there is something of a mismatch between this profile and the stuttering progress towards wider connectivity at sea.
“It’s pretty hard to imagine that more Gen-Ys will want to enter a maritime domain that deprives them of the technologies and services that have shaped who they are and how they think and feel.”
By Neville Smith