Effects of COVID-19 felt by recruitment sector
Crew agents discuss the impact of the pandemic on recruitment and what this signals for the season ahead…
The months of March, April and May would usually be a busy time for the crew recruitment sector, as yachts look for new candidates ahead of the summer season. But this year the peak recruitment period has coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak. As the industry tries to understand how yacht owners are responding to the pandemic, changing habits in the recruitment sector give an insight into what yachts are planning for the season ahead.
Wilsonhalligan has reported roughly 60 per cent less job vacancies than it would normally have at this time of year. “We have had some clients that are laying off crew and planning on putting the boat alongside somewhere until Christmas and some yachts that are giving crew pay cuts for a certain timeframe,” explains Liam Dobbin, managing director at wilsonhalligan. “But we have also seen a lot of captains that have fought really hard with their management and owner to have no change in terms whatsoever and protect the crew so that the boat will be ready for when the owner next uses it.”
Viking Crew has also noted a considerable reduction in the number of job vacancies, with about a 40 per cent reduction in the number of vacancies in March compared to last year and about a 60 per cent reduction in April compared to last year. “It hasn’t all totally stopped,” says Paul Rutterford, operations director at Viking Crew. “There is a mix of boats that have laid off crew or reduced rotations and boats that are still actively recruiting, but with a delayed start until travel restrictions are lifted. A lot depends on the owner’s situation and what the boat is being used for.”
But, with so many crew looking for jobs and not as many positions being recruited for, a candidate-rich pool may have a longer-term impact on the crew jobs’ market. “I think salaries are going to drop this year because of supply outweighing demand,” adds Dobbin. “There are more candidates than there are positions, so the yachts are becoming a little bit fussier. There might also be certain boats that lose rotational positions or good terms, and the jobs available might not be as good as last year, because they know they will have the candidates to fill the positions.”
“I think salaries are going to drop this year because of supply outweighing demand. There are more candidates than there are positions, so the yachts are becoming a little bit fussier.”
While there may not be as many job vacancies as what would be normal at this time of year, all the recruitment agents SuperyachtNews spoke to have noted an increase in recruitment activity in the last couple of weeks. This is perhaps a sign that owners and charter clients are now starting to plan trips over the summer.
“Jobs have been filled in the last couple of weeks, but I would say only 5-10 per cent of what it was this time last year,” says Pippa Wastell, recruitment agent at Bluewater. “Some of the yachts are offering open start dates, so if the crew can’t travel to a yacht immediately then they are sent the contract and able to join at a later date. Obviously, a lot of crew needed to head back home at the start of the lockdown, so we don’t have a lot of crew floating around France and Italy at the moment readily available for work.”
“Many yachts are recruiting now with a flexible start date, which we think is extremely sensible,” agrees Tim Clarke of Quay crew. “Conduct the interview process, hire someone and get the contracts signed by the joining crewmember as quickly as possible to get some commitment from them. Then all that needs to be done is book a flight at the appropriate time. We know that there are many owners who want to use their yacht at the first possible opportunity and we suspect there will be little notice from the boss when this does happen.”
Although travel restrictions are easing in some countries, getting crew from A to B remains a challenge and, in some cases, recruitment agents are having to focus on candidates that are in the same area as the yacht or in an area with no travel restrictions.
“It has been especially difficult for boats that decided to stay in the United States, with some crew asked to fly straight back and others having no problems at all,” explains Nicola Morgan, director at wilsonhalligan. “It has also been hard for South African crew that have been at home as travel for them has been really restricted. It makes it difficult for boats to consider taking them on because they just don’t know when they are going to be able to travel out of the country.”
“It has also been hard for South African crew that have been at home as travel for them has been really restricted. It makes it difficult for boats to consider taking them on because they just don’t know when they are going to be able to travel out of the country.”
Depending on the location of the yacht, newly-hired crew may also be required to have a two-week quarantine period before joining a vessel. This is additional time, cost and logistics that captains and owners will have to factor in when recruiting new crew in the current climate.
However, now that there are signs that recruitment activity is picking up again, there is optimism for the rest of the season. “There seems to be movement and we are positive it will pick up slowly as we come into the Med season,” concludes Wastell. “Not massive figures, but we are hopeful that the yachts who had to let crew go, will possibly need to recruit again. Nearly every request for crew has been in the Med, we haven’t had any requests for outside of Europe, and we have seen mostly engineer and interior positions coming in for the moment.”
“For a while we expected a really severe drop in recruitment and then a really steep rise again, but I think instead it is going to be a gradual rise until October,” agrees Dobbin. “There are still refit and new build projects that are due out the shipyard and they all need to be crewed. There are going to be jobs but it is going to be in July and August, which is normally our quiet period. It might just be a strange season this year.”
It is clear that there are a lot of crew looking for jobs at the moment, either because they have been laid off or are uncertain of their current situation on board. While placements might be be few and far between, crew are being advised to use this time to bolster their CVs and update their skills. Hopefully, when travel restrictions are further eased and confidence returns to the market, the recruitment sector will also go back to some kind of normality.
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