A two-day introduction to the shipping company for all new crewmembers will bring land and sea closer to each other at Broströms.
– I know that it will be appreciated and it is something we should have done a long time ago, says personnel manager Kenneth Thorén.
At most workplaces on land it would be unthinkable to employ somebody without first meeting the person in question. But in the world of shipping, a telephone call to the shipping office is enough to get a job onboard a ship. This has perhaps contributed to creating the distance which often exists between employees on land and crews on ships.
The feeling of “them and us” is certainly a legacy from the time when communications between ships and land were almost completely severed as soon as the ship cast off. But awkward relationships are seldom desirable, and many shipping companies today are aware of the problem and are making efforts to improve contacts between their various employees.
– It is essential to have good cooperation between land and sea, particularly when it comes to tankers. With the great changes and increased demands puts on us over the last 10 or 15 years, we are forced to work together, says Kenneth Thorén, personnel manager at Broström.
He believes that relations within the company are already good, but could be even better. To this end, he has decided to invite all new employees to the shipping office to show them land-based operations. For two days they will follow the work there, including everything from booking tickets to contacts with cargo owners.
– We think this is a good idea so that new employees don’t get taken in by all the talk on the ships about how we sit here and make trouble for them just for the hell of it, says Kenneth Thorén with a laugh.
Idea came from open-house evenings
The idea to invite new employees to the office came from the open-house evenings that the shipping company usually arranges for sea officer students at Chalmers. The future officers came to the office for information and a bite to eat.
– This has been very much appreciated and we have had around 60 students here each time. It suddenly struck us, why don’t we do this with our own employees? It is such a simple thing, which I am convinced can make a great difference.
Four of these occasions per year have been planned. They are primarily aimed at new personnel, but also other employees onboard (approximately 350 Swedes and about 150 Filipinos) may participate if there are enough places.
– I know that we have many employees who would like to come here and have a look. But we do not want the groups to be too big – a maximum of 15 people each time. We do not want it to become a large anonymous group, and we want to have the time to talk to each person individually.
Another method for improving relations between land-based employees and seamen is to recruit office personnel from the ships. The majority of land personnel at Broström have a background of work at sea.
– Having worked at sea is not necessary, but it makes things easier. Having a feeling for the sea environment is important in contact with ships since otherwise it is very easy for them to sit out there and feel that we don’t understand them. For example, when we are going to recruit new technicians, we first look among our chiefs to see if there is anybody suitable who may be interested before we look outside the company.
Mission: to create good relations
Kenneth Thorén describes the shipping company’s personnel department as a service unit with its main mission to create good relations, not least with onboard employees.
– When they are out there working, they will have 100% backup from us. They must know exactly when and where they are going, and that our agent will meet up with them. We should almost be there, holding their hands.
In order to create a good climate of cooperation all departments need to have good relations with those working on the ships, explains Kenneth Thorén. And some people have to make more effort than others to achieve this.
– Mechanics try a nut and if it doesn’t fit they throw it overboard and take a new one. Their view of personnel is quite similar, when it comes to the crunch. We have had to work a lot to make them see people on board – and in fact they have become a lot better at just that.
Everybody must be treated well
A good relationship starts to be made long before employment is on the cards, says Kenneth Thorén. The open-house evenings are a way of creating a good relationship at an early stage, as is participating in the trade days arranged by schools. We are also keen to take good care of the students who do their training onboard the company’s ships and the goal is that every contact with potential future employees will be in a positive spirit.
– A good first meeting helps us to build up our already good reputation. People who make contact with us should be given a relaxed but proper welcome, even if it is only by telephone or e-mail.
Good relations between those working on land and at sea make things easier in many different contexts. As well as the daily contact between ships and offices, it can also be an advantage when employees’ personal problems must be handled.
– In a quarter of an hour an employee with alcohol problems is coming here. Had we not already known each other, he would probably be thinking that we would fire him. Now he knows that we are prepared to do our duty and support him, says Kenneth Thorén.
But he does not think that it is only the onshore organisation that has responsibility for cooperation. Those working on the ships must also make an effort to create a good climate.
– We have the responsibility to invite them, and they have the responsibility to take up the invitation. You cannot walk around and be angry and refuse to listen – everybody must do their part.
To completely remove the gap between land and sea is not possible, believes Kenneth Thorén. And maybe not even desirable.
– We must allow the seamen to complain a bit about us in the canteen. We can give them that pleasure, as long as they don’t come here and throw it in our faces without us deserving it.