In today´s yachting industry time is of the essence. Busy programmes and tight yard periods keep the pressure on the team. As yachts increase in size and complexity so must the crew. Sometimes a captain simply doesn’t have the time to source individuals with the specialist skills and experience required. That´s ok though – that´s where people like me, the humble crew agent, come in.
Each year that passes sees yachts grow in size, with rapidly changing technology and ever more complex systems on board. As a result, new positions have arisen. For example, we now see Interior Managers residing above Pursers and Chief Stews, and ITOs (Information Technology Officers) working alongside the ETOs and Engineering teams. Often for these specific roles we need to spread the net a little wider and actively seek candidates from outside the yachting industry. This takes time and research – time the yacht captain or manager simply does not have to dedicate to finding these people.
The same goes for the traditional positions. Everyone in yachting knows how hard it is to find a suitable engineer and that´s why crew agents evolved. We have a niche to fill, and we continue to evolve to satisfy the changing needs and objectives of our clients.
What do you want to achieve?
If you want to get the best service out of your crew agent, firstly you need to consider exactly what it is you want to achieve. For example, some captains would rather do the legwork themselves and search through suitable CVs on a database and check the references to get feedback from industry peers. In this case, a headhunter-style agent probably isn´t for you – it´s more expensive and if you are going to be repeating their work anyway it´s a little pointless. For this reason we are seeing more and more of the shopping cart approach agents popping up. You can pay an annual fee to search through an online database yourself and contact whoever you like for any position. It works for a lot of people, time permitting!
However, if you´re super busy, in a rush, or maybe you just don´t like sifting through CVs, that´s the time to call a recruitment agent. These guys (should) work with you to determine your exact needs. In my experience, every client is different and it takes a little time to get to know them. A client usually gives me the basic information on what they are seeking. I then drill down a bit to get some more details to help me find just the right fit. On paper it is often straightforward. For example, Captain Bob, busy chartering 50m MY Bertha, is seeking a chief mate holding CM3000gt, with at least a year´s experience as mate on a similar-sized vessel. But it´s my job to find out the type of personalites found on board. My aim isn´t just to find a person with the right ticket and experience; it is very important that he fits in with the captain and existing crew.
To do this, I would ask the captain various questions that aren´t specifically related to the actual positions. For example, I might ask about the ages of the other crew on board, overall or in the team the new crew member will be working in. I might ask about the languages spoken on board, the nationalities, experience levels and skill sets of other crew. Also I try to find out what the crew do in their spare time to unwind. Are they party animals? Homebodies? Are there lots of couples on board? Do the crew socialize together out of hours or do activities together? There are lots of different factors to consider.
Agencies like mine interview crew in person wherever possible, not just to determine experience levels, but to get to know them a bit too! Personality goes a long way. We thoroughly check references and ask a lot of questions – again not just about work ethics and skills but about them as individuals, how they interact in a team environment and how they get on with the other crew members, especially when under pressure. I understand how demanding it is to work and live in a tiny space, so it´s incredibly important to find personalities that mesh well. Sharing a cabin with someone who is your polar opposite is, to be frank, a total nightmare. Having common interests is important.
The way to get the best out of a crew agent is to help them build a relationship with you. Some clients send out emails to a number of crew agents which often results in all of them racing each other and bombarding the client with CVs. The client then has the unenviable task of working out who sent who first… and informing all the agents during the ensuing bun fight. Some agents will throw CVs at the client to cover all bases, without being sure these crew really tick all the boxes or, worse, before confirming the crewmember is even properly interested. When a captain sends out blanket requests it doesn´t really give us agents the opportunity to properly investigate the role. The emphasis is often on commissions over the level of service required, which results in the client being bombarded with unsuitable CVs and gives us agents a bad name. But we do understand that sometimes you have what feels like five minutes’ notice and, the only way to cover yourself is to contact lots of agents at the same time. In those situations it´s a free for all and, if you need a crewmember that urgently, you´re probably not going to be quite as picky as when you have time on your side.
In an ideal world, the client should take the time to develop relationships with a few good crew agents in different locations. Build that relationship so the agent knows you well enough to be able to judge who you would like to be working in your team. Ok – it could be a bit arduous at first, or a bit hit-and-miss, but once you take the time to understand each other better, you will reap the long-term benefits. When your lead deckhand slips and twists his ankle mid charter and you need another one to start the same day, you should feel confident enough in your crew agent to be able to pick up the phone and tell them you need a new one – and now! They should already have a file on your vessel and probably on you too, so they know exactly the type of people you need.
Each yacht has its own programme and demands. Your crew agent should understand that and, more importantly, understand you. Your agent (or agents) of choice should be on the ball. You should not be asked the same questions every time you call… “Is it private or charter?”; “Motor or sail?”; “How many crew?” etc etc. And if you are? Give me a call...
Erica Lay is the founder of Erica Lay Crew Company, which launched in January. She has worked in international yacht crew recruitment since 2007. She has developed her own unique way of sourcing and interviewing yacht crew with great success. Having managed two international crew recruitment offices she brings a wealth of ideas and experience with her and has always strived to provide the most professional service to her yacht clients. Erica has worked with some of the largest and most prestigious yachts in the world; not that size matters… She thrives on the challenges involved in sourcing crew for all yachts large and small, and treats every single client´s crewing requirements as an individual project. Erica has a vast network throughout the yachting industry and is known internationally as the person to speak to regarding working on yachts - be it your first yacht job, or your twentieth year in the yacht industry. She loves the recruitment side of the yachting industry, that´s why in 2013 she decided to take the next step and launch her own international yacht crew agency.