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COMMENTARY
HR & EDUCATION, SHIPPING & MARINE | Contributed Content, Singapore
Published: 10 Feb 14
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Paul Ratcliffe

What 2014 holds for shipping jobs in Singapore

BY PAUL RATCLIFFE

2014 will see owners take delivery of thousands of newbuild vessels and more ships on the water means more people needed in shore-based roles.

Right now the global newbuild order book is standing at over 4,000 cargo ships and close to 1,000 OSVs. Every week brings fresh stories of owners inking new orders - the world fleet will continue to expand into 2015, 2016 and beyond.

This translates, basically, into more jobs: a good commercial Operator can handle around 10 ships, so every time the global fleet increases by 10 that is 1 new Operator job created.

On the technical management side a Technical Superintendent can typically manage around 5 ships and a Marine Superintendent anything up to 15. More ships mean more people.

Along with these Operators and Superintendents, more Crewing and Chartering professionals will be hired, not to mention the associated support staff and management required.

So, 100 new ships on the water can directly create 50 or more new shipping jobs on-shore. And these will be followed by the indirect jobs this creates at the various suppliers, agents, brokers, lawyers, and insurers.

So where does Singapore stand in this? There is no doubt that in bulk shipping Singapore is commercially the best in Asia and will continue to attract more international shipping players. The Global Trader Programme, offering reduced tax for commodity traders, means there are now 300 commodity traders with $100m+ revenues in the Lion City.

With all these cargo interests in Singapore, brokers and operators have to have a presence here, and for ship-owners commercial representation a necessity. Nowhere else can offer so much shipping business opportunity in one place, and in Singapore most of your clients are only a 10 minute taxi ride away.

Unquestionably, government policies affect the employment market in Singapore shipping. The tax benefits offered to shipping companies helped to establish Singapore’s current strong position by attracting international shipping companies en masse in 2006-2008.

As markets continue to improve in 2014, and ship owning becomes profitable again, these tax incentives will once again become more attractive; saving money on tax bills is really only of interest to companies that are making profits!

Again influenced by government policy, the people market in Singapore is slowly changing. The real change is coming from an improvement in the local talent pool driven by education – since 2009 NTU Maritime Studies BSc programme has graduated around 60-70 bright young candidates every year and many of the established shipping companies hire trainees from this talent pool.

SMU now offers a Maritime Economics Concentration and will be graduating students from 2015. In addition, the Polytechnics are offering world-leading Diploma courses and provide an excellent training environment and career path for Singaporeans to develop careers on-shore and at sea.

Changes to regulations in employing foreigners have had some effect, and firms now look to hire locally first for positions where the skills are available.

Senior positions though are largely unaffected by these changes as C-level and Director level roles are not given to people as career development opportunities – companies need the best possible people in these roles regardless of nationality, and not enough Singaporeans have the sea-going experience required to fill the technical roles available.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Singapore is the city with the highest concentration of diverse shipping talent in the world. The shipping industry in Singapore is a cultural rojak with 5,000+ shipping and maritime companies representing practically every country on earth.

With the city being the leading maritime centre in Asia - and now vying with London to be the Maritime Capital of the World, there is an undoubted need for diverse and highly skilled international talent.

International shipping companies will always want to maintain links to their home country, and when your clients come from all over the world it makes commercial sense to have a diverse workforce.

When managed well everyone benefits from this cross-pollination – foreign talent in Singapore gains exposure to a dynamic Asian market and gets the global experience to fast-track a career (not to mention access to a wealth of new career opportunities at competitor firms).

Singaporeans benefit from world-class shipping companies investing in developing local talent who ultimately benefit from exposure to international best-practice.

More ships on the water means more people employed on shore. Companies will continue to hire people in Singapore because if you want low / no tax, access to the top talent globally, to be in close proximity to your clients and counterparties, then Singapore is the place to be.

Whether or not the shipping markets continue to pick up in 2014 and beyond, the industry in Singapore will remain strong and good shipping talent will be in demand.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

Paul Ratcliffe

Paul Ratcliffe

Paul is a headhunter in the shipping and offshore sector and has been working in this market since 2009.

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