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Millennials vs The Old Sea Dogs

Wesmans, who are the appointed Lloyd’s Agents in Oslo, Aarhus and Gothenburg, reflect on the challenges of hiring and working with a cross operational workforce.

Thu 16 Nov 2017

After more than 100 years of operation in Norway, Wesmans seized the opportunity to expand its operation throughout the Nordics, to include Sweden, Denmark and most recently Finland.

Wesmans has a young and ambitious management, striving to safeguard old traditions within the Marine insurance industry, while at the same time building a path for the future, making use of new technology and hiring the right professionals. Hiring and maintaining the right professionals is by far the most important challenge that a growing company faces, especially one that relies on its expertise and where there is a cemented philosophy to provide its Principals with in-house knowledge, instead of acting as a coordination center, relying on semi-retired “one-man bands”.

There is no doubt that the Marine insurance industry is a conservative industry, built on several hundred years of history, where Lloyd’s and its agencies has been at the very core, setting the standards of how stakeholders shall conduct their business, regardless of geographical region or local culture. Walking into an office with a Lloyd’s agencies´ sign by the entrance, will come with expectations on both quality and experience. Experience based on lifetime careers, built over the years surveying countless numbers of incidents, none being identical to the previous.

In the past and to a certain extent also today, people with a mariner’s background have played a vital part as a recruitment source for the position as Marine Surveyor. People who have sailed the oceans, carried varieties of cargo on numerous types of ships. Usually the ones with the most experience are “the Old Sea Dogs” who have sailed on break-bulk vessels, prior to the container era that really took off in the 70s. Many of these have stayed loyal to our industry for their entire career, having built a reputation and sometimes even become somewhat of a legend in a certain port or region of the world. Always preferred by the same Principals, who insists on a specific Surveyor, whom they were once upon a time introduced to, by a now possibly retired senior colleague within their own organization.

The Old Sea Dogs do and have played a valuable role within our industry and we are proud to still have a few working with us at Wesmans. They serve as excellent mentors and lead by example. However, going forward it’s becoming more difficult to identify and attract people with a solid mariner’s background. Of course, this is also the effect that less young people seeks a career at sea and for those who do, they can still look forward to very attractive pay and benefits packages as senior officers or alternative shore based positions. Making it difficult for an independent survey company to compete with ship owners, insurance companies and oil majors.

Instead we must look at alternative options. Options where we can retain the expectations on quality and experience of being a Lloyd’s agent but still be competitive both towards Principals and as an employer. Is it crucial to hire someone who has sailed the oceans for years, carried varieties of cargo on numerous types of ships? If so we would have to leave out the Millennials, at least for the time being. The Millennials are in a positive meaning a demanding generation. All their life they have had on-line access to surplus amounts of information and knowledge provided through sources such as Google, Youtube, Wikipedia and the likes. Making the use of modern technology part of their up-bringing and in the Nordics, Millennials education has been based on being creative and independent, in addition most have been raised with a “can do anything” attitude. Sometimes resulting in a slightly too boosted ego.

A majority of those we recruit today and in the years ahead are and will be part of the Millennial generation. When studying Millennials “workplace attitude” on Wikipedia the following words repeatedly shows; producing meaningful work, finding a creative outlet, expect close relationships and frequent feedback from supervisors, work-life balance, switch jobs frequently, great expectations from the workplace.

Indeed, many positive things describing the “workplace attitude” of Millennials, at the same time demanding for an employer who wishes to attract the very best and having them stay with the company for a long time. As we at Wesmans pave the way for a further 100 years of operation, our core ambition is to recruit, train and promote people of different backgrounds, sexes and ages. We are a people’s company, where our co-workers’ performance and well-being are by far our top priority. After all, for a consultancy company they are the only asset.  With the Old Sea Dogs slowly retiring from professional life our industry is in for a change with the Millennials at the helm.

We now see Millennials taking advantage of and inventing new technology such as survey apps downloaded on to smartphones, which enables a surveyor to complete a survey report on site to have it uploaded to a claims handling system on-line. Drones are already being used for remote surveys and the use of drones will be on the increase in many parts of modern society. In addition, there is a wealth of knowledge and information which can be attained in minutes through Google etc. But can fancy tools and quick access to knowledge and information replace true experience? Probably not but it can most likely get you a long way.

At Wesmans we have a humble but committed approach towards the future, as we face the challenges of managing the transition phase, aiming at bringing the Old Sea Dogs heritage into the fast and somewhat restless pace of the Millennials.

Karl Erik Presterud


Remark: It’s important for the reader to note that these are challenges that we at Wesmans are experiencing, operating in the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.