During my 6 years in shipping recruitment, one phrase I regularly hear from managers still surprises me: “How much for an operator!? That’s the same as the charterers in my team are on!”. For some reason, many managers are happy to spend higher sums on experienced charterers, research/risk analysts and accountants, but when it comes to operators, they want to take someone who is at the bottom of their price bracket.
Do not get me wrong, Operations is the perfect starting point in the industry, and it is important to take on junior members of staff to bring fresh talent into the industry. However, there are of course some extremely good operators out there, who are under-paid for what they bring to the table. The nature of shipping sadly means that most employees need to move companies to increase their salary to be in line with the correct market level.
Most of us in the industry know that a good operator is worth their weight in gold and a poor one is the difference between a profit and a loss on a voyage. I consider myself lucky enough to have worked on both the operations and chartering sides during some tough markets from 2008 to 2014.
I was taught to fight for every penny, but also look after your regular clients and always stick to “My word is my Bond”. A charterer can fix the best possible rate going, but all their hard work is in vain, if any part of that voyage does not go to plan.
A good operator is the one on the phone to the port agents checking that no other vessels are arriving before theirs, ensuring the vessel has her holds prepared according to the cargo requirements, maximising intakes, and also ensuring the ship has enough bunkers onboard. Not to mention making sure the vessel finishes loading/discharging before weekends and any pre-loading surveys are carried out.
The list of responsibilities is endless and of course operators make mistakes, it’s all part of the learning process. However, an operator making regular mistakes, across a fleet and multiple voyages can be a disaster that will cost the company huge sums of money.
The demand for good vessel operators is always there, however, the profile that everyone wants are generally happy in their company and not looking for a move.
All I ask is that next time you see an application for a Vessel Operator, try not to compare the price to your commercial team, and rather think “How much could a bad operator cost me?”.
Also remember that this person will be on call 24/7, and also be responsible for executing the voyage with the client that your team may have spent years building a relationship with. They’re worth the investment.