Industry view: Create a culture of opportunity

By Derek Cook, managing director, Semco Maritime Ltd

Finding the right people and keeping hold of them are two crucial interwoven issues for any business – and are of particular relevance in today’s energy industry with its much-discussed skills shortage.

So, who are the right people for your organisation? Having had the privilege of helping more than 50 young people start their careers in electrical engineering, I firmly believe in the value of regularly bringing youngsters into the business, both as school leavers and university graduates.

The recruitment of these youngsters can be tackled in various ways, through building relationships with local academies, attending graduate recruitment fairs and via straightforward job advertisements. Semco Maritime also recruits new personnel via less obvious routes, such as those leaving the armed forces who are attracted to the opportunities we offer for re-skilling and further learning.

Around 10% of our 50-strong workforce in Aberdeen comprises of trainees. We recruit two to three youngsters annually who receive on-the-job training coupled with the opportunity to gain relevant qualifications, initially at certificate level via day release and, thereafter, if desired, at higher or degree level through evening classes.

On average, our trainees remain with the company for eight years – a strong statistic for young people embarking on their careers. Part of our success, I think, comes from the recruitment process where we carefully seek the qualities that we foster as part of our company culture.

At Semco Maritime we have four core values: commitment, responsiveness, reliability and inspiration. In terms of our recruitment efforts, therefore, we look beyond technical and academic abilities to seek those who are inquisitive, with an enthusiasm for learning. We attempt to create an environment where people will ask questions and work well with others. If we can pinpoint these traits in interviewees, it gives us confidence that we can create positive long-term working relationships.

The challenge of retention is, therefore, one of ensuring that the opportunities our trainees are exposed to are diverse and stimulating. In keeping with our core values, we attempt to challenge people and provide access to as many areas of the business as possible. As with our recruitment efforts, we are not exclusively focused on developing technical or engineering competence but place equal importance on nurturing communication and interpersonal skills.

Our training process is underpinned formally by a system of personal development planning coupled with six-monthly reviews. This system allows trainees to work with their line managers to identify any gaps in experience or knowledge. As part of a global business, we can offer personnel a huge variety of opportunities both geographically and across our operational divisions. A comprehensive staff development programme is an invaluable tool when it comes to attracting and retaining staff and helps to position our organisation as an employer of choice.

Throughout Semco Maritime, the company ethos is to encourage and support colleagues. Youngsters, in particular, learn most from the people around them and this relates to their conduct as well as their work skills. Over 30% of our Aberdeen workforce has been with the company over eight years and these staff members are excellent role models for our trainees. I believe that if you invest time and effort in people, once they progress they will support others as they themselves have been supported.

As to the future, the industry must strive to create opportunities to attract, recruit and retain good people. With an era of decommissioning ahead, our sector will undoubtedly change in size and structure, but I am convinced that lifelong career opportunities will still exist. Strategic investment in the right training and education will ensure that our youngsters can exploit these opportunities to their full potential.

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