For many of our land-based counterparts in ‘normal jobs’, navigating career progression is fairly straightforward. You enter and climb the ladder step by step. In the superyacht industry, however, these steps can be a little slippery. How do you even get your first job and where does a career at sea lead? Is it just a fun-loving escape from the nine-to-five grind, or is it possible to have a long term professional career?
For many young hopefuls, yachting is not even on their radars. For others, yachting offers the promise of excellent - often tax-free - salaries and a chance to travel the world, but many do not stay.
Meanwhile the global fleet is growing year on year, and the revolving door of crew members is a constant drain on skills and resources. There are numerous debates about the root causes, from poor leadership to a lack of mental health and welfare provisions, all of which are probably true. But how do we fix it and where do we start?
To address the fundamental issue of signposting, a think tank called Raising the Bar aims to reshape the narrative beginning with a series of comprehensive career pathways to attract and guide crew at every stage.
Supported and hosted by The Superyacht Alliance for Professional Standards, a collection of industry associations, these industry-first career maps are now available to all online.
Raising professional standards
The mission of Raising the Bar is clear: to engage, inspire and retain superyacht talent. Conceived by Karen Passman, founder of Impact Crew, the seeds were sown back in 2015 when the results of an extensive crew turnover survey highlighted the need to raise professional standards.
Meanwhile, a number of other industry associations were grappling with the same issues, culminating in the formation of The Superyacht Alliance for Professional Standards with industry expert and consultant Hein Velema at the helm.
Recognising the importance of industry-wide collaboration, The Superyacht Alliance lent its support to Raising the Bar for the greater good. "We aim to unite industry members in an effort to enhance professionalism and implement higher standards,” says Velema. “We are happy to support the work of Raising the Bar as part of a shared commitment to achieve this.”
Mapping crew careers
In February 2021, when Passman first rallied captains, recruiters, insurers, management companies, brokers and training providers, the first issue that came to light was a lack of clarity and direction for crew wanting to progress within the industry.
Questions emerged, such as: How can crew develop? What are their next steps? And what do they need to do to get there? As a result, a subgroup was formed to map out viable career pathways from the point of entry all the way up the ranks, believing that if crew could see the potential for development, perhaps they would be more likely to commit to yachting for longer.
"We wanted to shatter the perception that yachting is just a temporary or backpacker-style career. The career maps are a way for us to emphasise that yachting can be a long term career where individuals can continue to develop and progress,” says Passman.
New industry blueprints
Creating detailed career maps for every department required considerable legwork by members of the think tank who contributed their time and expertise on a voluntary basis. "We mostly relied on recruiter knowledge to develop the career maps, but we also gathered specialist knowledge to ensure accuracy and, once refined, we pushed them out for testing,” Passman explains.
“Each pathway also provides an overview of mandatory and recommended qualifications, as well as the personal qualities that crew should have or need to develop for each position.”
Another key aim was to manage expectations in terms of timeframes, so each pathway suggests the amount of time crew should spend in each role to perfect their skills before considering progression. “Some people watch Below Deck and imagine they could be a chief stew in a month and a captain in two, which is very misleading. The maps are about managing and supporting these expectations correctly,” explains Passman.
Ship to shore
The next phase of this career mapping project, due for launch next year, will show how crew can develop and transition ashore, completing the full circle of talent development and talent retention.
"The website is so important as the maps will also show how to create a whole career; yachting doesn't have to stop when you come ashore. The industry is so much bigger than most people think and we want to show there are opportunities to move between industry sectors," explains Velema.
The hope is that these career maps will be an invaluable reference that helps the superyacht industry to retain talent across the board. “But our aspiration extends beyond crew,” says Passman. “We anticipate that recruiters, management companies and training schools will also use the maps, and all users will be assured of their ongoing relevance and accuracy.”
Velema also hints at further exciting developments in the pipeline: "We are hard at work creating new qualification programmes such as the recently launched Yacht Owners Representative Programme, which is just the beginning,” he says. “We also hope to launch new qualification programmes for the AV/IT sector and industry-wide sustainability. Additionally we plan to create industry-accepted registers of all professions."
Previous attempts to resolve the crewing crisis have come and gone, but with industry-wide collaboration towards the unified goal of raising professional standards, maybe this is the beginnings of a solution that finally sticks.