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It's a confidence thing

The Naval Architect: October 2015

In October 2014 Faststream wrote in The Naval Architect that the oil & gas market was booming and how some naval architects were making the move away from their traditional roles in maritime and into the lucrative world of oil & gas. Times have changed and what was becoming a trend last year has been turned on its head. 

As a recruitment business Faststream speaks to candidates every day about what they want to do and why they want to move. Confidence plays a key emotive part of the recruitment process and on many occasions an employee will leave a job based on the confidence in their company, their sector or their manager. For naval architects looking for a new role there are good opportunities available. Companies are still looking for talent and today this talent is not just walking the street. There have been no mass redundancies and where some areas of the market are clearly struggling there are pockets of other areas which are booming.

So just how are naval architects really feeling? As a recruitment company we were in a position to ask our clients and we conducted a detailed confidence survey of over 7,000 naval architects in September 2015, to establish how people felt about their job, the long terms prospects of the sector they work in, and how prepared they would be to move away from their comfort zone, if times get hard.

Your job today
70% of naval architects surveyed indicated that they are confident about their job today which was consistent across the majority of sectors and employer types. Those working for class societies or in the tanker sector were standout when it came to confidence in their roles with 85% and 84% respectively confident about their job today. Unexpectedly the offshore sector was second to defence when it came to low confidence levels.

Whilst much is written about the on-going cuts in government spending and the decrease in new-building projects for export internationally, this is generally a stable sector for naval architects and with long-term projects in place, should provide employees with good prospects for years to come.

For the 30% of naval architects concerned about their immediate prospects it’s interesting to see how these people would be willing to adapt their employment terms to improve their prospects.  Those who are not confident about their job today overwhelmingly choose working on a contract basis above relocation and the least favourite, a change of sector, to improve their prospects. Whilst naval architects and the offshore sector were early adopters of contract or project work, the same can’t be said for those working in class societies or consultancies. These employers have traditionally followed the permanent recruitment model, but this is changing. They are on the look-out for contract and project based employees who can plug immediate gaps in their hiring and our survey proves that candidates are thinking alike.

Contract or project work provides employees with exposure to sectors or technologies that they would perhaps be unable to work in as a permanent member of staff, offers job diversity and often better pay. Clearly job security does not match that of a permanent role, but there are plenty of contract and project roles available and good people will be able to move from project to project. It’s also a good way into companies who aren’t currently recruiting permanent staff, but will do so in the future.

However, there is another consideration for naval architects who want to take up project work. Our results show that relocation was second choice when it came to improving prospects, but most project roles will be in a diverse range of locations, which was not the natural choice for naval architects. An example of a project vacancy Faststream are working at the moment is starting in Copenhagen and then going with the project to China. Naval architects may need to emulate maritime professionals from a seafaring or operational background who typically have a more mobile attitude towards their job and career. An important point is that in today’s world job security comes not from being employed but being employable.

Although employees named a ‘change in sector’ as their last resort to improve prospects, there are in fact opportunities to be had. The tanker and cruise sectors are good examples of employers who are broadening their horizons to bring in naval architects with experience of different ship types.

Future prospects
Whilst it is easy to analyse employees’ current positivity and negativity about their job, long-term prospects are often more difficult to conclude, especially with market conditions experiencing huge volatility. Faststream asked naval architects if they were confident about the long-term prospects of the sector they work in, with 63% saying yes. When we talk about long-term in recruitment terms, we’re really only talking about 1-3 years and like many sectors in oil & gas and maritime, naval architects are not protected from uncertainty within the market. In a basic conclusion 37% of naval architects are telling us that they aren’t confident in their sector over the next 1-3 years and would consider a change of scenery.

Class societies again topped the polls of long-term confidence with 74% of employees comfortable with future prospects of the sector, followed by those working for owner/operators, consultancies and in last place shipyards where only 57% of their employees had long-term confidence. The fact is that retention of staff will be difficult for shipyards with long-term confidence levels low. As employers they’ll need to do more to retain their staff or risk losing them to other areas of the market.

So is the employment market for naval architects good or bad? It depends where you’re looking at it from. There’s lots of unrest across the energy life cycle and naval architects are not immune from this. There will be employees who ride out the storm and those who will jump ship and that’s normal. But do I see naval architects struggling for work? No. There is still demand for the best people, and although the length of the recruitment process will extend in the short-term, hires are and will still be made.  The biggest change I believe will be in more non-traditional employment terms. There is a high demand for contract labour in areas of this market which needs to be embraced by employees and employers alike.

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