The shipping industry offers you one of the most diverse and exciting career paths within industries today. The global marketplace has expanded tremendously. International economies depend upon shipping for sustainability and growth. As international trade increases worldwide, so does the demand for shipping, and along with it, increased opportunities to enter this exciting field. This means that you will have an easy time finding employment in the shipping industry. Finding your niche, though, requires careful planning, research, proper education and training, determination and flexibility.
Your first step is to conduct an honest self-evaluation: your aspirations, tolerances, preferences, and needs for professional and social growth in life. For instance, are you the kind of person who loves the idea of feeling the ocean winds on your face, traveling to foreign ports, experiencing different cultures, and cultivating a global network of co-workers, friends and industry colleagues, while enjoying the rewards of high pay and great benefits? Are you looking for a career that will build your self-confidence and offer you opportunities for rapid advancement? If so, then working on a shipping vessel, such as cargo ships, dry bulk carriers, or tankers, may be the place for you. The flip side, though, is that life at sea is very demanding, the work hours are very long, the vessel is not home and you are going to be sharing cramped living quarters with your co-workers. You may feel isolated and homesick for family and friends. So, be careful and think about these issues before seeking out a sea-based position.
If your self-evaluation tells you that you prefer walls, your own space or privacy, solid land under your feet, and the constancy of home and family, then you will want to explore a land-based career in the shipping industry. But don’t think that you are giving up excitement or versatility by working on land. The on-shore aspect of the shipping industry is fast-paced, intensive, multi-faceted and always busy. In fact, a career in shipping in 24/7, since the ships trade worldwide and need constant management and monitoring. But since the industry is so broad and global, you can transfer virtually any educational degree, including finance, marketing, law, and engineering into a successful career on shore for one of many large and small shipping companies.
For me, international shipping was my first love, even though my path took me initially to the world of finance. My passion for the exciting international world of my parents’ shipping company propelled me to obtain my MBA from Harvard University so that I could join them in the company started by my parents decades before. I was lucky that I had first-hand experience in seeing not only the many, varied career paths available in the shipping industry but also the tremendous joy that my parents experienced from their work. The opportunity to have a positive impact on international trade and geo-political relations was for me the most important way in which I wanted to spend my working days.
Life on the Seas
As mentioned previously, working on a sea-going vessel is exciting. Your on-board colleagues become like an extended family and these relationships can endure for a lifetime, even after leaving the vessel, especially if you work for a solid shipping company with a fleet of ships around which you can rotate your service. The experience and skills you gain are easily transferred to on-shore operations or to a different industry altogether. The list of career opportunities on international shipping vessels is extensive, but essentially they break down into four general categories:
Responsible for the cargo and deck areas, including cargo operations, navigation, berthing and un-berthing operations, ship maintenance and general servicing of all vessel deck equipment, utilities and deck machinery.
Responsible for ensuring the safety of mechanical and structural systems. This job requires good multi-tasking capabilities.
Responsible for safely navigating the vessel at sea, including: designing and implementing passage plan, managing navigational watch, monitoring of vessel’s position via location instruments such as electronic charts and radar. Once at port, deck officers are responsible for the orderly flow of cargo from the vessel to dock.
Responsible for preparing the meals for the staff on the vessel, including ordering and budgeting everything needed for the galley.
Primarily found on long-haul vessels, responsible for crew accommodations and assisting the marine cook. Usually the steward holds a safety and or medical training certificate.
On-shore careers fall into three general categories: shipbuilding and repair, port operations and crossover positions.
Shipbuilding and Repair:
Designing, engineering and construction of new vessels, as well as repair of existing stock.
Ports are busy and dynamic and can be as exciting as being on the vessels at sea. A wide variety of shipping vessels, cargo, personnel and government officials move in and out of the ports. Additionally, one has to track, monitor and comply with a myriad of international and domestic port regulations. Careers at port include: passenger and cargo loading, unloading, and distribution, and port security. This includes such positions as: longshoreman, truck and ship loaders, transportation manager, shipping broker, cargo and freight agent, marine engineer, chartering manager, and fleet engineer. A shipping broker position, for instance, will keep you on your edge. To be successful, you must be able to correctly assess current market conditions and predict the future of supply and demand for your company’s cargo. Your analyses can make or break the company—excitement for sure!
Crossover positions are for those who love the field of international shipping, however prefer not to spend time on the seas or at port, but instead to work with the many resource services that interact with international shipping companies on a daily basis. Careers include: shipping and receiving clerk, accountant, public relations specialist, maritime lawyer, marine biologist, and human resources specialist.
There are good websites, such as go-maritime.net, that provide useful overviews of the various career possibilities on and off-shore, with antidotes, videos, job responsibilities, and educational/training requirements. I suggest you visit them as a part of your assessment to help you define your career path. Take advantage of career fairs and other job search networking opportunities where you can meet professionals engaged in the careers that interest you. They, like myself, are always happy to share personal experiences and make helpful suggestions to guide you on your way.