Finding new talent to fill the ranks in the maritime industry is a tough job especially if the labor force you are targeting are engineers. Falling oil prices have seen an overall downturn in the oil and gas industry, as companies resorted to cost cutting measures and layoffs. However, activities in other maritime sectors are buoyant, and there is a rising need for new employment.
World Maritime News spoke with Maarten van Haren, Partner Consultant at Dutch recruitment and contracting specialist Middle Point, to learn more about the ongoing trends.
The company is engaged in recruiting engineers in the shipbuilding industry, luxury yacht building, the offshore industry, and hydraulic engineering; and it takes care of the entire registration and relocation process of new employees for its clients.
WMN: How would you assess this year’s situation in terms of employment rates when compared to the previous year?
Van Haren: There have been a couple of interesting developments this year. First of all, the oil prices fell through the floor, which has directly impacted our offshore clients. On the other hand, we see that luxury yacht building is booming; yards are full and their order books are filled for years in advance. There have also been new entries into the industry.
The German shipbuilding market, which has been pretty quiet for a number of years, is quickly turning around. The yards’ order books for cruise, luxury yacht and naval businesses are full, some up until 2020 and beyond.
In terms of figures, the employment rate at Middle Point has grown again this year, and we have seen an increased demand in executive search assignments. We believe this rise has to do with us increasing our knowledge, but moreover new business being generated from our relation based network.
WMN: What do these developments mean for Middle Point and in particular your expansion to the German market?
Van Haren: For us this means tailoring our successful model to the German market and creating a platform for international engineers to work and live in Germany. We believe there is a lot to gain as most vacancies are only published in German and therefore not accessible to, but possibly fitting for international engineers.
In the Netherlands, the Dutch shipbuilders started hiring international engineers about approx. ten years ago. In order to facilitate these newcomers our clients started creating an English work environment as well, enabling the international engineers to participate in meetings, read technical documentation and understand general information.
Although you can’t compare both countries one on one, there are many similarities, and we foresee a similar development in Germany. With our expansion to the German market, we feel that we can assist German shipyards and engineering / consultancy companies, in understanding that it is possible to employ international staff.
Of course it will be more easy for people who already speak some German, like many Dutch, Polish, Danish people. We expect solid growth and estimate about 30 people working for Middle Point in Germany by the end of next year.
WMN: Which is the most attractive maritime sector at the moment for people looking for a job?
Van Haren: The offshore oil and gas industry is tough, especially for people in exploration and production. We know shipbuilding still offers good opportunities and the same goes for the building of cruise ships, luxury yachts and naval vessels, not only in Germany, but throughout Europe.
With the downturn in the offshore oil and gas industry, we see the offshore wind industry definitely picking up in the Netherlands, the UK and France, but dwindling in Germany, with major offshore contractors and suppliers leaving the country. The downturn in the offshore industry has also been affecting the shipyards specializing in building vessels for the offshore industry. But again, this offers opportunities for a company like ours, because there are always projects under way and if a company is not able to hire people on a permanent basis, we can always find a more flexible contract solution.
WMN: What are the expectations in terms of employment in the next couple of years? Any budding markets we should look out for?
Van Haren: We believe that the maritime industry has a role to play in the overall economy and that it will remain steady. A market that we opened up this year is for system integration, that is, electro-technical service providers as subcontractors for the shipbuilding yards. We also see that the shipping industry is picking up, hence, the traditional shipbuilding industry in the North of the Netherlands focusing on coasters and multipurpose cargo vessels, is picking up too. In addition, harbor development is one of the industry branches we see potential in, especially as the development of harbors is expected to gain momentum with the recovery of the global economy.
Evidently, all our competitors doing manning of offshore platforms will see their businesses go down and they will probably have to expand into, for example, recruitment of seafarers to make up for the losses. As a result, I don’t see us moving into that field in the foreseeable future.
WMN: We have seen massive layoffs in the offshore oil and gas industry following the said downturn? What have been your experiences in this respect? Have there been similar patterns in the Netherlands and engineers working in this particular sector?
Van Haren: There have been no massive layoffs in the Netherlands and I believe that it has to do with the fact that the oil and gas industry here is not so much engaged in exploration and production and the upstream industry. The resources in the Netherlands are limited, unlike Norway or Aberdeen where everybody is engaged in exploration and production and where the industry was hit hard. On the other hand, there are a lot of subcontractors based in the Netherlands, engaged for example in the decommissioning, such as Allseas, that will likely be affected by the industry’s decline but are not feeling the consequences at the moment.
We don’t expect to see massive layoffs in the Netherlands, and in the end, skills are transferable to other industries. People can easily switch from the offshore industry to shipbuilding industry. In 2009 for example, when the oil price was even lower than now, we had helped people transfer their skills from the offshore industry to a new branch, namely the luxury yacht building, and they still work there today.
What we are certain about is that the need for younger generations is ever growing as the current workforce is aging. This is further substantiated by the fact that there is not enough people graduating from maritime branches in the Netherlands. Therefore, we expect the need for foreign labor to grow in the future as well.
World Maritime News Staff