(This article was originally written for Superyacht Technology News in 2017 when Just ETOs was still recruiting, but incase you missed it, the points raised are still very valid…)

The superyacht industry often talks about ETO or AV/IT Engineer shortages. It appears there are not enough experienced crew to manage the growing amount of technology in the industry. But is this really the case? Is there really an “ETO” shortage?

ETO Terminology: Strictly speaking, across the marine world an ETO is an electronics specialist. Nothing to do with AV/IT at all. “ETO” has become misused in yachting, to cover all electronics disciplines. STCW now dictates an ETO must also hold a Certificate of Competency under STCW2010 regulation III/6. However, this is only mandatory on the largest and most electrically-complex yachts, or if your job title is “ETO”. Therefore, many yachts are starting to move away from the ETO job title. (See paragraph 1.5 of MSN 1860 from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.)

Using the term as detailed above, not as such. Consider the downturn in the oil and gas industry in recent years. This led to an increased availability of ETOs. But it didn’t help the deemed shortage of electronics crew in yachting much at all. Why?

Because ETOs from other marine sectors are generally best suited to the largest yachts initially. On yachts over 100 metres in length, there is usually a dedicated audio-visual and IT systems engineer. These systems are crucial to the owner or guest experience. Parts of these systems are also unique to yachts.

On yachts under 100 metres in length, there is often no cabin space for both an ETO and AV/IT specialist. So, without key AV/IT systems experience, it is difficult for an ETO from outside of yachting to start on these vessels.

Hence in terms of electronics engineers that also look after yacht AV/IT systems, yes, as this is a skill set unique to the sector. This is where we have a severe shortage.

 

The real shortage – AV and IT Skills

So the real shortage is for crew with AV and IT systems skills. And we’re not just talking dedicated specialists or electronics engineers that also cover the AV/IT systems. It is more a skills shortage than a people shortage. The smaller the yacht, the more likely it could be any crew member also taking responsibility for these systems.

Most yachts naturally want crew with experience of the systems that are crucial to the owner and guest experience. For example, consider the high-end audio-visual (AV) systems so heavily integrated into yacht interiors. These systems, such as Crestron and Kaleidescape, rarely exist in other marine sectors. So, candidates with the right level of experience are difficult to find outside of yachting.

As someone once said “You can’t get the job without the experience. But how can you get experience without the job?!”

 

What are the factors behind this?

A decade ago the world financial crisis hit. However, demand for large yachts continued to rise since. Could it be the world’s richest have grown richer, and/or more numerous? Whatever the factors, there has been a trend for larger yachts for some time. Bigger yachts mean larger AV and IT systems, with more skills required onboard to support them.

In the past 15 years, we’ve also truly witnessed the digital revolution. Consumer technology is such a big part of our everyday lives now. Consumer demand for technology has sky rocketed. It is big money, so manufacturers keep bringing new products and services to market. The systems on a yacht are often expected to keep up. Yachts systems must also remain scalable and future-proof to be able to adapt to future demands. These factors again contribute to larger, more complicated systems requiring more specialist skills onboard.

The dependency on IT networks onboard has also grown. Most systems will now connect and interconnect using the ship’s network. Around 15 years ago, it was common to have separate cable runs for many systems such as CCTV, telephones and AV control. It was generally computers and peripherals that connected on the ship’s LAN. Now it is more common to connect everything to a single data network. Again, leading to an increase in IT skills required on-board.

Demand for external AV/IT support help has also increased. This is generally where the true specialists tend to be. But there is always demand for a certain skill level on-board.

 

Electronics recruitment: expectations versus reality

Satisfying yacht requirements for electronics crew is very difficult in the current market. Often, a client’s initial requirements are unrealistic. There is almost always a compromise.

But what clients are usually least willing to compromise on is experience levels. This is understandable. After all, the owner or guest should not have to lower their expectation levels on-board!

However, the market is unlikely to throw up perfect matches for a client’s unrealistic vacancy requirements.

For candidates with good yacht AV/IT experience, the industry is a great place to be. These skills are in high demand, so those with the experience are seeing stronger employment packages. This is basic supply and demand.

But paying more to attract the best does not solve the skills shortage. The experienced few remain spread as thinly as ever. When a crew member leaves to benefit one vessel, the other vessel loses out. The industry gains nothing.

All recruiters are struggling to find suitable electronics candidates to match client requirements. That is the cold truth.

What can be done?

Through open-mindedness and flexibility, clients and recruiters can better work together to understand and address these challenges. Thinking outside of the box is required. There is no magic short-term fix. Experience cannot be pulled out of thin air for clients without “head hunting”. However, Just ETOs believes this to be unethical and does not take this approach, despite market challenges.

Open dialogue with experienced and ethical recruiters is a good place to start. Better still, a recruiter with a unique understanding of your requirements for your specialist roles. Through developing a relationship with such a company, you’re already one step ahead when the next challenging vacancy arises.

Clients must also consider candidates from outside of yachting more often. A good recruiter should be able to recommend candidates from other sectors. A good recruiter should also be able to advise on the correct additional training to benefit both candidates and clients. Candidate skills and experience gaps can also be helped through longer handover periods and the right shore-side support.

Yes, all of this costs money. However, too often the true value of spending is not considered. This can lead to false economies, such as having inexperienced crew looking after multi-million Euro systems.

Consumer technology is a truly dynamic market. One that is most certainly not slowing down. We need to work harder to keep up, or we simply fall further behind. With the high standards that yachting commands, we cannot allow this to happen.

Above all, we all need to understand the market and its unique challenges better. This helps us to see the big picture, and move forward with an open mind.

Next Month – Part 2:

Simply identifying a problem doesn’t provide a solution. “The proof is in the pudding”, as they say. So next month, find out exactly how Just ETOs addresses industry challenges surrounding technology skills. We’ll also discuss what we mean by “ethical recruitment”.