Accessibility and Inclusion Young Professionals Club

How to attract and retain young leisure marine professionals

Kim Hollamby
Monday, 25 March 2024
It's a well-known problem—the global maritime sector has an ageing workforce, insufficient people coming in, and retention challenges when younger workers leave for other industries after their first few years. More diverse new generations are the future, but what will enable us to secure our talent pool sustainably?

James Ward has a two-decade track record in finding and placing new industry recruits. He founded UK-based Marine Resources as a 21-year-old GRP laminator by trade after realising a problem even then regarding skills shortages in boat construction. Over time, the Marine Resources team has broadened its engagement with companies to help retain and recruit staff. 

Industry overview

We start our discussion by asking how James sees the recreational marine sector's efforts in talent recruitment today: "We've had a lot of years of people speaking about the importance of diversity and young people coming into the industry," James responds. "Now we're finally starting to see movement beyond talking about these things. More companies are coming to us for help with strategies around this. They have learned that recruitment is challenging because there are not enough people with the right skills. Money is as important as ever, but several additional factors are involved in motivating and attracting would-be younger employees. Larger companies are also coming under pressure from shareholders to be more diverse and address the problems of ageing workforces.

"Unfortunately, there's no silver bullet solution to all of this. Companies are more conscious about their visibility when recruiting and realise that they need to use the right recruitment platforms. They understand the importance of their brand as perceived by employees and how they feel as a company to work for, rather than simply telling people, 'We have a job; do you want it?'”

Influence of Millennials and Gen Z

James continues: “Everyone needs to be more aware of the large numbers of Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Generation Z (born 1997-2012) in the workplace now. We've all heard old-fashioned industry views that mark younger people down as being from a snowflake generation that no one can take seriously. But whatever your personal opinions on changing values and habits, you cannot escape the fact that 75 per cent of the global workforce will be Millennial and Gen Z by the year 2030. That requires a different way of running our businesses, including how we treat our staff, the benefits we give and the values we broadcast and adhere to.

“At Marine Resources, we're seeing this trend and trying to educate companies on the need to become more attractive as employers. Forget the old measures of the job: the hourly rate and the tasks that people must do Monday to Friday. It's a priority now to focus on what you do as a business and what it's like to work for. What is your working environment like? 
What are your training and development plans? This information must live beyond internal documents and be present within employer branding. Recruitment and retention should be a distinctive pillar of marketing strategies.

“It is wrong to get too stereotypical about generations because every person is different and will want different things. Generalising, though, it's a safe assumption that many younger people are purpose-focused. They want to know the bigger picture, what it means and how it fits in a framework. They want reassurance that they're doing a good job. It is challenging for leadership teams because running a programme to address these needs can be time-consuming. However, there is endless proof that the businesses that work with their young employees in these ways get more commitment and engagement.

“Our experience with the Young Professional Club (YPC) so far suggests no significant variance in young employee needs from a regional or country point of view. The Club contains a diverse and talented pool of people who are ambitious and willing to learn. They do not expect a job for life and anticipate changing companies regularly for progression. 

“As a business owner, it is frustrating to train people knowing they may leave within a few years. But the hard truth is they'll not join at all or depart a lot sooner if you don't pay attention to what they want us to focus on. We need to accept and learn to deal with a transient workforce. 

“Feeding more talent to deal with shortfalls in skills is not enough. In people and skills programmes, the attention is often on school leavers, apprenticeships, and graduates, but we need to look at retention too. There's an age band around 28-33 where people move out of marine and into other industries. They are a few years on from university or apprenticeships and potentially at management level. But their motivations are changing. 

They may be starting a family, getting married or buying a house. They are changing jobs for more pay, better benefits, and more apparent career prospects. We must focus more on the people experiencing these life changes to keep their talent within the industry. 

Learn from employees

“We've undertaken two salary surveys to understand the industry,” James explains, “and they cover more than the title suggests. The reports also look at age demographics, diversity, and other facts, such as what attracts people to marine jobs and companies and what motivates others to leave the industry. The last one we did was in 2021, which provided insight into what the post-COVID 'getting back to normal' working world was like. We plan to run a further survey this year. 

“Our involvement with METSTRADE and the YPC also allows us to engage with diverse, talented individuals from around the world up to age 35 in the first phases of their careers. Rather than trying to figure out their motives and aspirations, we've had many conversations with them at the show and on the YPC LinkedIn group to ask about their expectations. Last year, we ran a series of events and networking opportunities that put them directly in touch with senior marine professionals. The response was very positive, and those involved felt it was a vital conduit into the industry to say what they want and need from a marine career.

“Similarly, we recommend that companies ask their employees questions to learn what they want and expect from the business. You can do that through activities such as engagement surveys, provided, of course, that you tangibly follow up on the results. From that inward look, you will learn what your employees think of you as an employer and what you need to do to improve and keep them. You'll learn what your employees are passionate about, and if you put them on those projects, they will smash them.

“This approach will also assist your recruitment because you can promote these employee-driven initiatives as a reason for joining.

“From an industry-wide viewpoint, we need to accept that different generations have different expectations of employers. This is as much a part of business evolution as the development of new technologies and products. Manufacturers also need to be more competitive on pay. You cannot boast in press releases that you are having a record year and then not share that success with staff. 

“Beyond that, though, there are other essential motivators. Can we be more purpose-driven? Do we have authentic sustainability practices? Do we offer brilliant training, development, and progression? There will always be things you cannot do, but it's time to double down on what we can.”