Dreaming of the Ship Life

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The global cruise industry saw 20.3 million passengers in 2012 or 27 percent more heads. But interest in sea-based employment hasn’t caught up with growth in passenger demand, says one cruise player.

 

Cruise-training-by-Stanley-OngHolland America Line has only two schools in the world for hotel training – one in the Philippines and the other in Indonesia. Yet it does not seem to mind whether it is visible online or not. For regardless of the fact, the schools are continuously abuzz with new recruits – first-time riders or seniors who are a few weeks away from getting aboard and working inside the floating destination.

 

Its Philippine-based school, HAL Training Center (HAL), is among the many cruise employment schools that will attest to how bullish the sea-based industry has been and may be in the coming years. Sources estimated that 20,000 new jobs will open in the industry because of 16 additional vessels by 2015, founded by a strong demand today largely by the North American and European baby boomers. There are approximately 46 cruise ships plying at sea as of this writing, according to CruiseCal.com, which tracks down the movement of at least 200 vessels, and it carries with it more than 100,000 passengers and at least 45,000-strong crew based on HNM’s research.

 

On Holland America’s part, the cruise line “almost never” runs out of new trainees coming from HAL and even the second school in Indonesia.

 

Demand for cruise crews is very high but not just anyone can apply. The cruise industry can be more discriminating on qualifications compared to land-based hospitality businesses.

 

Dax Jaurigue, HR director of Source Asia Business, Inc., which owns HAL, explained why: “Eighty to 90 percent of our clientele have had experiences with Holland America,” he said. “The only way they’ll go back to Holland America is if they had a good guest experience,” he said, adding that the cruise company’s recruitment agency requires an industry experience, sea-based or land-based, of at least two years.

 

Jaurigue is a former cruise ship fleet manager.

 

Job seekers with prior experiences onboard will have a significant edge not so much because of technical skills honed but chiefly due to exposure on what to expect in work and what kind of service ought to be delivered. Adrian Gearing, HAL training director, said that working at sea can be tremendously challenging for inexperienced applicants. The first-timer would have to overcome homesickness, challenge of intercultural interaction, and work load of a 24-hour operational ship throughout the months-long voyage.

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Cruise liners, therefore, try to identify the tendency of overwhelming homesickness as early as the interview process. Since employees are also emergency respondents at sea, survival and medical training will add to the preparation time prior to boarding. The duration from interview to finally getting aboard can take one to three months, depending on whether a new hire is a first-timer or not.

 

Once an applicant passes the interview, he proceeds to HAL for training on his field that can run from five days to three weeks. He needs to pass a final test to ride and work in Holland America.

 

More than teaching the company’s service standards from handling complaints to dish recommendations, HAL’s training philosophy is to embed a good theoretical foundation on the new hire, regardless of whether he has worked at sea or not. And so, within the first few days of the class prescribed, a student will have to learn the history and concept behind, for instance, fondant or a shot of vodka. Product knowledge adds to good service delivery, said Gearing.

 

Land-based vs. sea-based

 

This flourishing industry, though appealing to many job seekers, has noticed difficulty in acquiring qualified personnel in some areas of operations. “More and more, we’re having challenges in hiring qualified culinary personnel,” observed Jaurigue. “It’s not unique to UPL; it’s actually industry-wide.”

UPL (United Philippine Lines) is Holland America Line’s recruitment agency in the Philippines. The problem is much evident for the chef de partie or mid-level chef position.

 

The sea-based industry now competes more than ever with land-based properties in search for talent. “Although the cruise industry pays a little bit more, sometimes a USD100 difference is not enough to convince somebody who works in Dubai to work with us,” said Jaurigue. He was also pointing to the fact that land-based Asian workers who are known for their close familial traditions can access longer breaks and more frequent connectivity to loved ones than sea-based – a big score in the decision-making process.

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Land-based workers tend to look at cruise lines as short-run careers, a notion not difficult to understand because of the largely contractual nature of employment of entry-level staff. When the contract expires, the next typical scene is a return to home for vacation and the long wait for the next ship assignment.

 

But cruise lines have improved their human resources policies to attract long-term intentions. Holland America, for one, implements a form of security of tenure by giving a staff member’s next ship assignment prior to the end of the contract. This spares the workers from being “left in limbo” and allows them plan their life ahead, said Gearing.

 

In many special cases, the cruise company would also implement a similar strategy since loyal guests go back in search of familiar service. “Some guests call the Seattle office to find out where our employees are working so they can go onboard on those ships to cruise. A lot of them have seen these countries, so they go there to see these people, have these people serve them,” narrated Gearing.

 

Jaurigue dispelled the notion that cruise line employment is inevitably meant as a short-term career. In fact, there are a number of top Filipino managers onboard such as Ed Sayamoc, who began as a pantryman at Holland America in 1981 and now serves as an executive chef. Their photos are framed and hanging juxtaposed with the portraits of foreign chefs on a wall inside HAL’s facility at Antipolo City. Opposite this wall is another one filled with similar portraits, this time of exceptional staff members. At the rear end is a faceless portrait and, instead, features a silhouette with a question mark, as if asking if you’re up for the job.

 

Meet the trainers

 

Adrian Gearing, who leads the Holland America Line training at the company school in Antipolo City, has about 25 years of experience in the hospitality business specifically on sea-based operations. He began as a commis chef for the London Marriott Hotel and then for the mayor of London’s residence, where he had the opportunity to cook for royalties, even once for the late Princess Diana.

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Transferring to Carnival Cruise Lines, a sister company of Holland America Line since 1989, he rose from the ranks to become F&B manager of a 580-man crew in 2004. In 2006, he transferred to Holland America and was assigned to HAL after five years.

 

Gearing’s goal for the training center is to provide a learning experience as a foundation for career development and improve capabilities of senior cruise workers through retraining programs.

 

He works with Dax Jaurigue, human resources director of Source Asia Business, Inc., who himself was a former fleet manager of United Philippine Lines for Holland America’s recruitment. Jaurigue was formerly an operations employee at Makati Shangri-La and Aston County Resort in Binangonan.

 

Among other things, Jaurigue oversees the training center at Antipolo City and Source Asia’s recruitment activities for superyacht and cargo ship clients. He formulates technical and soft-skills training programs and conducts customer service training programs for hospitality service employees of the cruise line.

 

 

The chef on top

 

Ed Sayamoc’s photo hangs on a wall at school together with Holland America’s executive chefs. Born in Tagoloan, Misamis, Oriental, Sayamoc entered the company as a pantryman in 1981. He worked his way up by combining job training at work and education at the Culinary Institute of America. He reached the executive chef rank in 2000.

 

“I worked my way up and reached the position of aide de cuisine. It gave me the confidence to reach and achieve the executive chef position,” he told HNM via e-mail. He will be returning to join the M/S Amsterdam on August 16 to prepare for the 113-day Treasures of the World Cruise beginning January 4, 2014.

 

 

 

Industry numbers

At any given time, a Holland America Line ship contains:

50% – Indonesians

40% – Filipinos

10% – Caucasians and others

 

4,000 – approximate number of employed Filipinos in Holland America

 

 

 


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