News Article 30/08/2009

Crew management should not be considered in isolation
MEC- August /September 2009- p.49-50

Finding a human resources (HR) solution which provides efficient crew management capabilities, tracks staff growth in terms of training and skills, and towards crew retention, can be a daunting task
A s ship capacity grows in size, the number of ciew required grows with it. Crew managers are then faced with the complex task of updating, synchronizing I and tracking all seafarer data. While taking this into consideration, human resources (HR) departments also want to maximize staff potential, while minimizing overall administration costs.
For strategic planning, cast control and quick decision making, shipping companies need a centralized HR system with all the necessary recruiting and crew management tools in place to track crew whereabouts and activities, instead of using the manual headcount method still seen in many organizations.
Bass has recently released a new module for its BASSnet fleet management system, which is designed to address precisely these issues.
The company states that BASSnet HR Manager is aimed at shipping companies of all sizes, providing them with an effective means to manage new career development.
Key concepts during the development phase included ensuring that everyone involved in HR planning and scheduling can work on the same data simultaneously; reducing the administrative burden; and providing 'a sense of community' for all user groups, whether manning agents, seafarers, medical departments or training centers.
Crew members themselves can access the system to update their own biographical data. See derails of their next assignment as well as access training and career plan information. This says Bass offers them greater 'career progress visibility'. Meanwhile, the finance department can log in to track payroll-related information such as earnings, deductions and allotments.
This data can subsequently be exported in a format suitable for importing into a separate accounting system.
It is notable that the module also links to the BASSnet safety management system, where details of crew involved in safety-related events on board a vessel are captured. This helps management track crew safety records, make informed decisions when selecting manning and identify crew training needs.
One particular challenge that affects almost all shipping companies is sourcing new staff with suitable experience and skill sets – in short, finding the 'right man for the job'.
Because the BASSnet HR manager is web based, applicants can apply for a vacancy online via a link provided on the company’s website.
Using this form, applicants can enter their personal details, contact information, licenses and certificates held. Courses training attended, sea experience and other specific skills, as well as upload their resumes. The system will then automatically reject applications that do not meet the defined criteria, allowing for a file of short-listed candidates to be maintained for further consideration Interviews can be arranged based on this list.
Crew planning can also be problematic, especially when allocating personnel across a group of vessels or entire fleet. Of course, this functionality is core to any marine specific HR application. Bass’ solution will pinpoint the vacancies that need to be filled and propose person(s) that match the specified criteria and requirements.
After selecting and approving the personnel, the HR manager can follow up with regards to the required documents and track progress until the personnel are on board. As a result, crew changes should become more predictable and efficient -avoiding unpleasant surprises far the existing crew and ensuring that their reliefs join on time as planned.
The tightening of maritime rules and regulations impacts seafarers globally.
Maintaining high training standards requires seafarers to attend training courses (some mandatory) in order to keep up with industry standards, such as STCW-95. The planning of these training courses more closely relate to crew development based on his/ her skills and knowledge.
A good HR system can assist in determining competency gaps and is key to ensuring that the crew receives the correct and necessary training they require. In Bass's solution, this is achieved through user-definable 'competency matrices', Once a crew member's competency gaps are defined in a matrix they will be taken into account when an evaluation is performed. Based on the gaps detected, training needs analysis can be carried out and appropriate training can be planned.
The benefits of this matrix concept are particularly evident when it comes to the Tanker Management Self Assessment (TMSA) scheme, which has had a significant impact on HR management. Of the 12 defining elements, the second and third focus on areas where maximum benefits can be achieved in the recruitment and management of shore-based and ship-personnel.
Using a crew matrix, HR managers are able to:

  • define a set of criteria which then allows the system to display a combined rank experience of officers qualified to work on a tanker
  • display crew who do not meet required qualifications for working on tankers
  • generate a report of qualifications of crew currently on board a vessel

This streamlines selection of the right people for a position and means that the HR manager can be assured that the stringent TMSA requirements are fully satisfied.
Meanwhile, a simple wizard-based payroll process cuts the time a master needs to spend on the month-end payroll process. The wizard guides a user through the entire process in a step-by-step manner, reducing the possibilities of commonly made mistakes. The system also has a built-in checking tool that scans for missing data that may inhibit the payroll process. Once this check is carried out, the account period can be closed and data exported to the accounting system.
Elsewhere, Ulysses Systems has recently added enhanced crew management functionality to its core product, Task Assistant. Advisor to the company’s board of directors, Dimitri Lyras, believes that many packages still do not adequately support the performance of staff at a company wide level. “However, in a depressed market, as we are experiencing today, the strategic benefits of a well-implemented crew management system are equal to – if not more important than – reduction in administrative workload.”
Conventional crewing modules address the clerical aspects. Depending on the end-user – ship’s master, crewing agent or shore-based office staff – this typically comprises a database of personnel and interface for calculating wages and other staff costs.
He continues: “Nevertheless, some crew member records, such as assessments, are not purely administrative. An assessment represents a critical part of an organisation’s management and often takes into account day-to-day activities such as watch-keeping, maintenance duties and other performance metrics. Thus, while a traditional crew assessment can be carried out using a simple document with check boxes and comment fields, it will soon outgrow that framework as it becomes dependent on records kept elsewhere in the organization.
“Training undertaken by a crew member should be viewed both as part of the quality management system and as part of crew records.
The essential element is for the software to “transcend” different modules without artificial boundaries, thereby maintaining data commonality where it is appropriate.”
In line with this philosophy, Ulysses’ new crewing module is fully integrated within Task Assistant quality management modules, such as those for documents, planned maintenance, purchasing and reporting. Mr. Lyras says: “The design follows our unique task-based approach, which provides rich functionality based on other Ulysses modules, while sharing the same navigational conventions enabling the user to quickly become familiar with its arrangement.”
He adds: “Job specifications and performance reviews, reports from ships, officers, health and safety records and regulations, payroll and travel accounts all have a bearing on crewing decisions. Task assistant ensures that those decisions and processes are supported by timely and complete information without duplicated effort and with minimum data entry.”
Norway based Onsoft Computer Systems (OCS) I splaning to launch a new training course management module this autumn. This will fully integrate with the competence module and other activity planning aspects of OCS’s HR solution.
One of the key features of the new module is to have a list of course candidates based on competence candidate availability. HR managers will also be able to retrieve a list of available courses within a defined period for a selected group of candidates.
The module will support the administrative by notifying candidates by e-mail, booking travel and updating the participant’s competence record upon completion of training.
OCS’s competence module was itself developed in co-operation with several shipping and offshore clients, thereby ensuring it caters for and satisfies requirements set both by the operators themselves and the authorities to which they must report. It provides users with a full perspective of competence requirements for each position, actual competence and the gap between.
Another recent addition to OCS’s portfolio is an onboard module intended for ship’s masters. This was developed over two years with significant input, initially, from Rieber Shipping, and in the latter stages from BW Gas and Solstad shipping.
It gives the master a complete overview of his crew, both on board and on leave. This includes competencies, plans, and activities and of course all relevant personal information. Signing on and off is done on the vessel and supernumeraries can easily be added. Accommodation and meals can be invoiced and the system keeps track of cabins, rest hours and other factors. It also includes a training module and functionality for employee evaluation.
An important aspect is payroll functionality. Variables can be entered on the vessel; allotments are handled as well as advances and other payroll relevant information. Furthermore, the system has Slot Chest and Masters Account modules that are both integrated with the payroll to minimize errors and increase efficiency.
OCS Onboard links with a main shore based installation; a data is exchanged through a two way replication, the frequency of which can be set individually for each company or even each ship.