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New job, New yacht, New you

Adam Fiander takes a look at the latest thinking in successful yacht recruitment

I can recall on a number of occasions through speaking with senior charter brokers at events such as the MYBA Charter Show, how brokers used to stress, vehemently, time and again, that it was always the quality, skill, experience and, above all, the warmth and personality of the captain and his/her yacht crew at the heart of a really enjoyable and successful luxury yacht charter.

To illustrate the point even further, brokers told me, unequivocally, how an increasing number of charter regulars would enquire, as their first priority, as to the availability and whereabouts of their favourite captain and crew with the yacht appearing almost incidental to the initial decision making process!

In reality, yes, of course, we all know the yacht does play a major part, as does the cruising ground, the quality of the food & drink, the potential nightlife, the ambience and all the other wonders of chartering at the very top end of the scale. But in no uncertain terms, I know for a fact that crew who are good at their job, are sincere about their career and clearly love what they do, make the biggest single difference between guests merely ‘enjoying’ their luxury charter experience, or experiencing a truly amazing, utterly unforgettable, life-changing experience that knocks all other luxury vocational ideas to kingdom come!

Of course my personal recollection as to the whys and wherefores of luxury yacht charter comes as no surprise to anyone in the business of professional recruitment. Where the overriding objective is to source and place the right person in the most appropriate job, be that above or below deck.

Keeping that person in the role for as long as their natural career path and/or their contract period takes them is, to a large extent, the holy grail of recruitment. The financial rewards for successful placement are high, but the flip side is the fact that recruitment as an industry is more than well served by specialist agencies of various size, age and experience and competition between them is high.

One of the longest established operators is Peter Insull’s Yacht Marketing, whose crew agency has been in business since Peter first set things up in the 1970’s – a time when the whole business of placing crew on yachts was a mere sapling, when compared to the mighty oak tree it has now become!

Talking briefly with Peter Insull’s, Senior Crew Consultant, Sally Finbow, her experience comes across clearly and when asked how they achieve successful placements for clients she replied that candidates having the right qualifications and experience to fit the role is, of course, fundamental. A close second is for applicants to approach the vacancy with the right attitude. Individuals need to be a lot more committed nowadays than ever before, so candidates coming in to Peter Insull’s for interview as well prepared as possible make a good impression right from the start.

‘Yachting is not a 9 to 5 jobwhere crew go home at
night. People are living andworking together 24-7′

Sally adding that: “Yachting is not a 9-to-5 job where crew go home at night.  People are living and working together 24-7 in what can be quite stressful, service-orientated situations, so it’s important to effectively ‘people-match’ in order to build a likeminded team who can live, work and prosper together.  By doing this we can feel confident that crew will stay on board for a long period which is a positive result for both our clients and our candidates.

Sally concluded by saying: “This is where the interview process comes into play; getting to know our applicants and encouraging them to really open up about themselves is very necessary.  It’s often the smallest detail that can count; for example at Peter Insull’s we consider that knowing people’s interests and hobbies can be crucial to putting the right people together on each and every yacht.”

All said and done, the selection process is what agencies get paid for and this should not be the responsibility of the client. It’s not about candidates simply filling in online forms or anything like that, and that’s why it was heartening to discover that all of the recruitment agencies and individuals that we talked to invest significant time and often extensive travel and cost in getting to know their captains, crew and the nature and feeling of the boat as best they can.

Used fairly widely in other recruitment industries is Behavioural Profiling, and one yacht agency taking this aspect very seriously is JMS Crew, who are part of the well established yacht management company, Jansen Maritime Services.

JMS Crew, co-founder, Sam Thompson, told us: ”Feedback we have received is that some agencies can be a bit lackadaisical at times about crew placement, so by having that extra 10% of knowledge our yacht and crew profiling system aims to guarantee a better, more reliable fit for candidates by placing them within specifically profiled yachts on our system.

Sam added:”Our approach is to build long-term trust and personal knowledge about a yacht and it’s crew, and to act more like ‘account managers’ for each and every yacht we deal with.

“Therefore, we try and place people within already well known environments, and encourage crew we’ve placed to move up within the JMS framework. As a result, we get to know individuals very well such that the only reason they would look to move on is through promotion.”

‘The selection process iswhat agencies get paid for
and this should not be theresponsibility of the client’

Another well known company with a more ‘all-encompassing’ role is Guernsey based Bachmann Yachts whose main business is in commercial shipping, although the yachts side continues to grow.

Bachmann offer their customers ownership services such as yacht registration etc, through to management, employing, payroll and recruitment and within commercial marine employ something over 7,000 people in the cruise sector alone, with companies such as Cunard, Princess Cruise, P&O Cruises and Fred Olsen.

Bachmann employ another 13,000 in the general shipping world and have been doing this for over 40 years, so they clearly know this business very well.

Despite the impressive statistics, when it comes to the recruitment of qualified captains, engineers and other staff for yachts, Managing Director, Nick Saul and his team favour the traditional, face to face interview above other methods and told us: “As to the technique for yachts, we interview everyone using Skype or similar and we also talk to the owner to see what they want.  Our team, who have all worked on yachts, use their experience to match a candidate with a yacht, and we have a very good success rate at doing that.  And crew can keep up to date via our App which can be found under Bachmann HR on our website.”

There’s no doubt the growth in recruitment agencies over the past few years has, to a large extent, been fuelled by ex-crew who have decided that for them a shore-based career is their next best move. Typically, many are run by women who may have stepped ashore perhaps to start a new family.

But it would be naïve to think these small, often one-man-band style agencies are run by smooth-talking ex-stews looking to make a fast buck. And that’s certainly not the case with Stellar Yacht Recruitment, who’s Viareggio based owner, Stefana Cooney, knows a thing or two about the business, having ‘been there, done that ‘ after rising to become 1st Mate on a significant 50m yacht, during a varied and successful 10 year career on large yachts.

When asked about the question of ensuring longevity for crew on yachts, Stefana told us: “It’s hardly rocket science! But I can still recall lots of agencies putting me forward for the wrong jobs. So rather than rushing in with sending lots of CV’s, even up to thirty as some agencies do, we tend to send in very few compared to most, but each candidate has been extremely well considered such that we offer captains a form of one month ‘guarantee’ if you like, before payment needs to be made, and we think that action itself speaks for the confidence we have in each candidate being right for the role.

“This highly considered, case-by-case, flexible approach has been well received by captains and we tend to get offered their vacancies first, before they open up the job to larger agencies if we haven’t been successful.”

We know for a fact that staff within many recruitment agencies have the benefit of hands-on experience, not just in yachting, but in other luxury, service-orientated industries as well.

‘It’s hardly rocket science!But I can still recall lots of
agencies putting me forwardfor the wrong jobs’

London based Silver Swan Recruitment, for example, started out specialising in the ski chalet and luxury private villa market, before launching a yacht recruitment arm in 2014.

And while the kind of interior vacancies these agencies tend to handle are more seasonal, ‘generic’ roles, such as that of a top Chef or silver service hostess, the same basic rules for establishing longevity in terms of having the required level of experience, a good personality fit, genuine commitment and the right attitude still applies.

Silver Swan’s Tara Bromhead had two fairly long spells as a professional yacht crew interspersed with a ski season in Andorra before becoming head of yachts, based permanently in Antibes, and told us: “Our chalet and villa specialist, Philippa Smith, often has staff who want to get in to yachting and vice-versa and bearing in mind a lot of yacht owners also own chalets, there’s a very real opportunity for those out there with skills such as being qualified chefs and hostesses, for example, to work within both areas and benefit widely from doing so. Even despite the fact that salaries are known to be higher in yachting.”

When you board and look over some of the very largest, multi-deck superyachts out there as I have done, the concept of having a properly trained household butler, to meet and greet you on arrival is actually not as far fetched as one might think.

Another experienced recruitment consultant adamant about the positive effects of sourcing and placing yacht interior crew from different domestic environments is Abi Dunlop from Greycoat Lumleys, who, as company yachts specialist, deals with job applicants from different international backgrounds on a daily basis.

With a solid background in yachts, chalets and private islands, Abi comes across as someone who genuinely understands the needs of both client and candidate and told us: “In my opinion, a busy ski-season first of all is a great training ground for potential yacht interior staff or Chefs, when compared to applicants who do not possess this kind of experience. A successful ski season provides an ideal transitional period and is a good personality test, if you like. And for Chefs having to plan, prepare and cook up to five or six high quality courses every night, it’s as demanding as any yachting environment that’s for sure!”