We’re all feeling it, and we’re all seeing it. There are not enough crew to fill all the positions right now. Why? Where have they all gone?
Well let’s start at the bottom of the ladder: green crew. 15 years ago, when I became a crew agent, junior positions were all advertised at €2000 per month (that’s the equivalent of only 2600€ today – an increase of less than 2% a year, current inflation is +10%). In 2007, a great wage for brand-new, fresh out of the packet crew, when most yachts started their summer season by training a couple of greenies from scratch, for interior and for deck. Back in these “glory” days, rightly or wrongly most weren’t paying taxes… that €2000 went straight into your bank account. Or it went straight onto your tab in the local crew bar but that’s none of my business…
Immigration officials were not trawling websites, Facebook, or local docks seeking illegal jobhunters to deport. A Schengen visa was easy enough to acquire in South Africa or wherever before you came to Europe to stay in cheap backpackers’ hostels, on a cheap flight. Now to fly into Antibes or Mallorca in the springtime, you need to have a lot of financial backing. Long gone are those lovely days of backpacking around the world, wandering into a marina to look at the big boats, and finding yourself hired for some daywork, then discovering a new vocation in life and beginning a career on board a superyacht. This romantic tale does not happen anymore. Like it or not, as the industry has striven to become more professional, it has also become financially driven, with schools now cashing in on providing necessary, and sometimes not so necessary courses to new crew. This was a time when you didn’t need to have an STCW, ENG1, FH2, PB2 to daywork or even to do a full season onboard, before deciding if you enjoyed yachting enough to commit to shelling out on just basic courses. Now, you have to spend thousands before you even get to set foot on the docks that everybody is saying you can’t walk on anyway because you’ll get arrested and sent home.
Those who do make it to the yachting hotspots arrive to be told they’re not good enough because they don’t have experience, and to be slammed with “the new generation are not hard workers like we were” from vocal senior crew on Facebook pages.
The industry as a whole needs to come together and stop this collective bashing of the new generation. Like it or not, they actually do have it harder than you did. See above. It’s all relative, you had it tough, but so do they, in different ways. Let’s respect that, understand that, have a little empathy, and give people a chance. Why are we not hiring green crew anymore? This demand for “must have at least a year’s experience” must have a limit. Fair enough if you’re looking for a senior crew member but for junior stews/deckhands/chefs etc, we must give green crew the opportunity to prove themselves. It’s ironic when you consider seniors only hire experienced crew to make their lives easier – which means they’re actually the ones being lazy in their duties and responsibilities to the industry’s future by not investing their time and expertise in training the new generation.
Case in point – I asked my networks on social media to give me their thoughts on how we can improve crew retention, and the first email I received was from a captain moaning about how tough he has it. Not what I asked, but ok… then after complaining (at length) about how he should be given rotation with all his experience (despite no longevity, and never progressing his career or qualifications amongst other red flags), said “new crew are entitled”. No sir, YOU are entitled. Take responsibility, your decisions led you here. These are the captains who forget they were hired by their elders 20 years ago who probably also thought they were entitled brats, and yet instead of refusing them an opportunity, they trained, mentored and moulded them into the experienced crew they are today. So pay it forward. Another captain complained, “I don’t have time to train anyone!” Who trained you? Lucky they didn’t say that isn’t it? They made time to help you and here we are. It certainly seems from crew feedback this year that there are many seniors around who are not the pioneering leaders and managers this industry needs. We get it, it’s a tough job, the crew politics are far harder than running the yacht itself, but you have a responsibility when you’re at the top of the ladder to all your crew. Toxicity at the top leaks down and taints everything below. If you can’t be that person, then perhaps it’s time to step aside and let the next person step up. Make a change, or BE the change.