VHR’s Dale Fisher on Technical Recruitment in the Superyacht Industry

Posted: 15th January 2020 | Written by: OnboardOnline

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International technical recruitment company VHR has expanded rapidly over the last few years, and Dale Fisher, GM of its Marine Division is responsible for sourcing the best talent from around the world for some of the superyacht industry’s biggest players.

We caught up with Dale to discuss current trends in the market, the rise in transferable skills and the importance of work/life balance. 

OnboardOnline: Tell us about your early career and how you got involved in yachting?

Dale Fisher: I grew up on the Isle of Wight so was always around boats, but I fell into the industry by accident. While at university in London, a friend called me up and asked if I could help his brother, Tom Hutchinson, who had a couple of shipping containers stuck end-to-end on some waste ground in front of Battersea Power Station where he was developing a new type of composite rigging with his company Future Fibres. I helped him out a few days here and there, which was followed by a couple of months over the summer of 2000, and the rest is history.

I worked with Future Fibres for 15 years as Head of Service and travelled the world as a professional yacht rigger. I was lucky enough to provide global support for five editions of the Volvo Ocean Race and to work with over 20 Americas Cup teams, so it was a definitely a case of right time, right place.

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OO: Tell us about VHR and your role in the company.

DF: VHR is a global technical recruitment consultancy serving a number of sectors worldwide, including aerospace and aviation, Formula One and automotive, engineering and defence and, most recently, marine. The company was established in 2003 by Danny Brooks, a private pilot, passionate sailor and former World Student Yacht Racing Champion.

I joined VHR nearly five years ago to set up the Marine Division and I’m now General Manager of the division and responsible for all things marine!

Across all divisions, our core expertise is sourcing talent from around the world when it’s unavailable domestically, providing skilled labour wherever required. Currently VHR works with over 200 clients across 50 countries, and we have recruited over 10,000 candidates since our inception.

OO: You work with some world-class brands, including Etihad and the motor sport team Toro Rosso – you must meet some interesting people?

DF: Yes, we have several decade-long partnerships with industry-leading brands around the world, including three global airlines and a European Formula One team, and our first client is still a client today, 16 years later.

OO: In the age of technology, demand for qualified technical staff is surely on the rise. Which of the four sectors is growing the fastest?

DF: I would like to say the marine sector is growing the fastest but in fairness we have seen growth across all core sectors. I have big ambitions for the Marine Division, expanding our services to other areas of the sector that are due to explode over the next few years - I can’t say more at the moment but watch this space!

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OO: Is there a lot of movement of personnel between sectors?

DF: The skillsets of technicians are highly adaptable across industries – for example, designing pieces of an aircraft is similar to designing the blades of a wind turbine – so technical workers are often able to transition easily between sectors and specialisms. And being largely a contractor workforce, technicians are rarely short of opportunities to travel around the world to work on a range of exciting projects with well-known and innovative global brands.

OO: Which types of company do you work with in the yachting industry and what’s the scope of your service? 

DF: Currently we work with companies from Grand Prix race teams including Americas Cup through to superyacht builders, and some of the suppliers and sub-contractors that work with these clients.

We work on both contract and permanent recruitment, helping our clients to find skilled technicians ranging from boatbuilders, painters, carpenters, marine electricians and engineers, designers and project managers through to executive level. We recently placed a very niche role for a specialized CFD engineer and another at board level for a European client who builds high performance sailing yachts. If it’s technical and relates to boats, we can help!

OO: What trends are you seeing in project management?

DF: Project managers are in high demand (good ones anyway!), and we have had some good successes matching people with the right skill sets, even if they are not necessarily PMs as such. Clients always want the perfect candidate but sometimes need to be a little flexible.

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OO: Which skills are most in demand today?

DF: Composites are growing at an exponential rate with constant advances in technology and processes, so this is an area of expertise that is highly sought after and candidates can be pretty choosy.

OO: What are some of the challenges in finding and placing the right people?

DF: Much of the time it depends on the client and the role you are trying to recruit for. Location is a big factor and obviously some destinations are far more attractive to prospective candidates than others.

Another major aspect of what we do relates to tax compliance and labour laws. Relocating people to different countries and making sure everything is watertight can be a big headache and it’s critical to make sure you get it right. That said, VHR has a great team in the back office and a reputation for being able to solve these issues. Quite often we find our competitors will put it in the ‘too difficult’ box and we are able to find a solution where others have either given up or not even tried.

OO: What impact are AR and VR having on the demand for personnel, or the need for certain skills?

DF: By 2035, roughly 50% of all jobs across manufacturing and transport will be automatable. However, new technologies including AR and VR are also creating thousands of new jobs for human workers. Fully autonomous ships such as the Mayflower (set to sail across the Atlantic in 2020) will require a completely new type of expertise, needing current marine specialists to upskill and industry leaders to source higher volumes of staff.

When combined with an escalating skills shortage – the Ocean Policy Research Foundation predicts a shortage of 364,000 sailors by 2050 – AR and VR are set to ramp up recruitment in the sector for the next few years.

OO: And 3D printing?

DF: From what I have seen and the companies I am working with, uptake has been slow in the marine sector, probably due to the bespoke nature of superyachts, but it’s starting to pick up.

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OO: What are your predictions for space travel as an industry?

DF: At present, the cost makes it only possible for a very few, but with the technology becoming more and more commonplace, prices will come down. There are a lot of new players getting involved in the sector so hopefully this competition will further drive advances in technology and affordability. That said, I’m not sure it will happen in my lifetime!

OO: What will the technical workforce look like in 20 years?

DF: More and more we are recognizing the importance of work/life balance and the link to happiness and wellbeing. People want flexibility and with the continual advance of technology, I believe the ability to work remotely will become easier. The use of drones (ROV) for underwater inspections is a good example of using technology to reduce the need for specialist personnel on the ground.

OO: VHR has expanded rapidly from 35 employees in 2015 to over 100 in 2019 - to what do you attribute the success of the company?

DF: We’re continually growing because we continually strive to be a great place to work. VHR aims to subvert the recruitment industry’s short-term culture by focusing heavily on learning and development for all our staff, across functions and levels. Our Employee Engagement Programme offers unique training programmes from two in-house L&D coaches, a professional qualifications scheme, personal development plans for each individual and 21 benefits for all employees.

We also have the VHR Academy, a bespoke training programme that transforms inexperienced individuals into successful recruitment consultants. So far we have developed 12 high-performing recruiters, one of whom, Alejandro Perez, works with me in our marine team and he was shortlisted as Recruiter’s Newcomer of the Year 2019 for his hard work and excellent results. 

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OO: What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your career so far?

DF: Be honest and ALWAYS accept responsibility for your actions. We all make mistakes and I have seen so many people over the years try to put blame on other people. Put your hand up, take it on the chin and learn from it, and try not to make the same mistake again.

OO: Who do you most admire in the world of business/yachting, and who has inspired or influenced you?

DF: Ellen Macarthur continues to be an inspiration. I was fortunate enough to work with her on several of her yachts including the Open 60 she competed in The Vendee, and what she achieved on the water was incredible. The way she has since leveraged that achievement, from setting up her Cancer Trust, using sailing to help children and young people to recover from cancer, and the work she is now doing to promote a circular economy is phenomenal.

OO: What would you change if you could?

DF: The damage the human race has done to the earth since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Air pollution and global warming, plastics in the ocean, major species becoming extinct or endangered. It is scary how much impact we have had in such a short space of time with the explosion of populations. If we could start again with what we know now…  

OO: Which three objects would you take with you to a desert island?

DF: Mask, snorkel and my trusty Leatherman Wave. I think with those three I would be pretty set up!

OO: What is your motto?

DF: Give me solutions, not problems!

Images: Dale Fisher/VHR

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