Monday, January 19, 2009

Striking the right balance

THE shipping downturn will narrow the gap between the supply and demand of seafarers, according to the Malaysian Maritime Academy (Alam).

Last year, the Transport Ministry reported that there was a big shortage of local seafarers working on board 3,582 Malaysian-owned merchant vessels.

About half of them were Malaysians.

 It takes about 10 years to develop a fresh school leaver into a master mariner or a chief engineer.

Internationally, before the global financial crisis hit the shipping industry in the fourth quarter last year, it was said that the maritime sector was short of about 20,000 seafarers.

Alam chief executive officer M. Adthisaya Ganesen said the shipping industry slowdown had marginally narrowed the gap between supply and demand of seafarers.

“Not much, but if the market deteriorates further, shipping companies operating in certain sectors may resort to cutting wages,” he toldStarBiz. “And in some cases, they will also be selective in choosing the ‘right’ seafarers.”

However, he said, shipping companies should be careful in managing their human resources since it would not be easy to find efficient seafarers once the market rebounded from the current condition.

“We have to bear in mind that it takes about 10 years to develop a fresh school leaver into a master mariner or a chief engineer,” he said.

Alam will be able to produce marine seagoing engineers quicker and at a lower investment cost without compromising on quality and competency.

As a result of the downturn, Adthisaya expected a cut in sponsorship for cadets this year.

“It is anticipated that industry stakeholders will be very cautious in their spending and implementing cost-cutting measures.

“Sadly, training is always seen as a cost item and it is most likely to get the axe.” From experience, he said, in each recession, investment in human capital ceased. “When the situation changes to an upturn, companies scramble to find people.

“The biggest danger is the tendency for companies to compromise on quality and competency of talent in order to make up for the shortfall in manpower,” he said, adding that companies should have long-term manpower planning.

“Usual business plans, which include fleet expansion, mergers and acquisitions, should take into consideration the aspects of recruitment and training of manpower.

“In doing so, the companies are always better prepared and ready to face the challenges with the right choice of people,” he said.

In the bid to produce competent seafarers, according to Adthisaya, there are cases where the record number of sponsorships and cadet intake of about 500 cadets per year had created a bottleneck in board training.

Apart from completing their cadetship programme, the graduates have to attain the minimum sea time requirements to sit for their certificate of competency (CoC) examinations.

“But, Alam is very careful about the number of cadets that we take in as the numbers are based on the availability of training shipberths.

“Not only do the shipping companies (sponsor) have to ensure provision of shipberths for the cadets but also for those who have graduated to enable them to clock their sea time and become eligible for their higher CoC.

“But, if more ships are being laid off and newbuilding orders are being cancelled, then there could be further reduction in availability of training shipberths,” he said.

Expressing his personal view on the ups and downs of the shipping industry, Adthisaya said shipping was a cyclical industry and it closely followed the growth or decline of trade.

“On the bright side, 90% of goods are still being transported by sea and globalisation cannot be reversed.

“It is almost certain that the industry will pick up fast once the economy recovers,” he said.

Alam, a wholly-onwed subsidiary of MISC Bhd, currently has about 1,476 cadets.

“The next intake in July will see a reduced number in pre-sea student due to the global economic crisis,” Adthisaya said.

Source: Star Online

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