Joost Mes Views: LET PERFORMANCE DO THE TALKING
By Ligaya Caban
Mr. Mes had announced retirement from the Dutch Team, honing to regain the Manila Soccer World Cup won in 2013. He hanged his jersey to avail of senior citizen privileges a day past October 9th, his official entry to the Millennial generation.
And proceed to offshore sailing, re-qualify as Yachtmaster, crew for Sydney in the Hobart Race by end of December --- back to his roots and romance of the sea.
Marino World earned a one-on-one interview October 25th in Manila with, Q&A herein:
MW. Being a trustee of the Dutch Chamber in the Phil, what interest do you push for the Chamber to be involved in?
JM: Netherlands has consistently ranked within the Top-5 countries for Direct Foreign Investment in the Philippines; we try to promote and facilitate this trade. Apart from this, we have a sizable maritime interest here. There are well over 10,000 Filipino Officers and Ratings serving on Dutch-flagged ships.
The Dutch Shipowners Association and the Dutch government are supporting a public Maritime Academy in Leyte, a main source for Officers on Dutch-flagged fleet for over 15 years the project is running. Dutch shipowners have ships calling the Philippines on a regular basis.
It is Dutch-Philippines maritime cluster I am most concerned with in the Chamber.
MW. At the IAMU-MET conference in Manila, Anglo Eastern group Managing Director Pradeep Chawla tipped Africa as one of the future main players in manning. Having worked in shipping in Africa, do you see any challenge from them against the Philippines in manning and shipmanagement?
JM: Africa has been a long time for me. But yes, I noted Pradeep who has a sharp nose for trends. I agree Africa has an increasing role to play in the local offshore market and regional shipping.
But as global player, the threat for the Philippines is coming from Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Myanmar and India. For shipmanagement Hong Kong and Singapore remain the strong regional ship management centres backed by favourable business conditions and tax incentives.
The Philippines is slowly attracting some ship management business… with an increasing pool of senior officers gaining experience ashore… but also needs the confidence of the ship owners/managers and a favourable business environment.
MW. You noticed the high attrition rate in 2018 on BSMT/BSMarE, only 2,256 passed out of 82,205 starting. Is this our default as “the best educated ratings in the world.” Is this systemic or where are the weak links?
JM: MARINA OIC VAdm Vingson at an IAMU-MET Conference in Manila last February presented the numbers from a comprehensive study by MARINA and CHEd on results of Maritime Education in the country. It is a public secret that the educational system was not very effective in producing Officers but never before was wastage this visible.
Is it systematic…yes but I have to be careful there as the Maritime Education in the Philippines is a varied lot. Out of the 75 or so approved schools let’s say the top-10 or so schools are doing a good job and owners find their way to those institutions. More and more of their graduates make it into senior positions on board, ashore or back as educators.
Graduates of other schools will have a harder time; lucky ones might find their way via the domestic fleet as ratings. I fear the majority will never make it on board. They have bled tuition fees and worked hard for three years, yet remain empty-handed. They end up with an incomplete college education and a disillusion.
Education is business in the Philippines, many school owners seem to focus more on quantity than quality. Under pressure of the EMSA audit, MARINA and CHEd are now slowly closing the net on sub standard schools. It is not about producing as many graduates as you can… but graduates who are fully compliant with international standards. Quality over Quantity.
MW. CHEd Memo Order 70 puts SBT solely with the maritime schools, now struggling at 60% and face the spectre of a 100% goal.
JM: I can understand both side of the coin here. I can see the administrations reasoning to focus on output of institutions as one of the criteria to be satisfied. The extent to which a school manages to place its graduates is a reflection of the quality as perceived by the shipping industry.
I think it is good to put back some of the responsibility back to the Schools students but I do not think there are many maritime colleges in the world that can guarantee degrees or cadet berths for 100% of their graduates.
The truth is somewhere in the middle and hope the administration will sit down with the educational sector what would be a reasonable percentage and how this can be implemented in a gradual, practical and transparent way. But the message is clear: do not accept many more students than can be absorbed by the industry; make sure graduates can compete globally.
MW. Owners balk 'school carrying capacity' has not proven as much benefit as the clear damage of cutting 2018 enrolment from about 161k to 80k.
JM: By and large, shipowners support the carrying capacity as it is ‘common sense’: tells schools to adjust enrolees based on the number of class rooms, teachers and resources available. This measure should improve the quality of education.
But a school owner sees revenue slashed unless willing to invest in additional classrooms, teachers, simulators, etc. Over time this may result in maritime education becoming more costly. If this is the price to pay for more quality, so be it. Reducing enrolees from 161k (2015) to 82k (2018) for sure also reduces the number of disillusioned graduates who cannot secure places on board.
MW. VAdm Eduardo Santos says apart from having technical competences, mariners must acquire high level of “logical & critical thinking, professionalism and ethical behaviour, human relationship skills, emotional intelligence, multicultural sensitivity, be environmental conscious, etc…” Are we demanding for supermen or is this systems overload?
JM: Yes, we all want supermen and women on board. But that is in the ideal world. I think VAdm Santos was just quoting competencies for the Seafarer of the future. I hold him in high regards and he has always shown a realistic, pragmatic approach to what is really feasible in education.
The message is that we should broaden our horizon beyond the traditional STCW technical competencies. If it is up to educators, Seafarers of the future will be much broadly educated.
MW. We worry on the EMSA findings. But you advocate our glass is half full rather than half empty. Could you kindly elaborate (beyond this inspirational jive)?
JM: I said so because compared to the beginning of 2018, there was renewed momentum, so all reasons to be optimistic. I am still an optimist but also a realist to see there are still some hard nuts to crack.
The Administration and MARINA are now fully committed to address the issues raised and it makes no sense to second guess on the outcome at this stage. What is needed to be said has been said. We should now allow MARINA and the Administration the time to do their job without creating too many distractions.
One thing is for sure, major stakeholders, including the EU, want the Philippines to succeed. This was emphasized in April during the monitoring visit by DGMove Director Magda Kopcynska but she also added that the proof is the pudding.
EMSA will be back at the beginning of next year to see if the quality system the regulators have in place ensures those certified meet the standards of the STCW convention. Nothing more, nothing less.
MW. POEA reports a decrease of sea-based workers (442,820 in 2016; 378,072 in 2017). Should we be alarmed? If we should, what remedial action/s do you suggest?
JM: Ah, the mystery of POEA statistics. Yes, at the beginning of the year the grapevine buzzed with dramatic figures, a drop of 25%. But it is hard to find statistics supporting this claim. The closest are on POEA website in the overview of “Deployed OFW’s by type of hiring” and this would indicate a drop of almost 65,000 deployments or about 15%.
Indeed, that would be alarming. But at present, POEA reports the 2017 figure as 449,643 so that would still indicate a 1.5% increase even though this is mainly caused by the increase in fishermen.
Being alarmed depends on which POEA figure you believe in. At best, the Philippines has difficulties to keep up with the growth in the world fleet so this implies that some ground is lost. It would be interesting to see the 2018 figures and see if the trend continues (but figures are not yet available).
Focus is very much on total deployments as these reflect the number of jobs. For development of the industry, it is not the number but the quality of those positions. It is more interesting how the pool of Officers is developing, as in the long run, this will determine whether you will have the Maritime Professionals to drive growth.
POEA only presented OIC ranks but failed to show developments in the most important senior ranks. For 2016-2017 the OIC ranks showed negligible growth and engineers even showed a drop in deployments. This seems to suggest stagnation, no reason to be alarmed. But certainly, something to keep an eye on.
This highlights the need for reliable statistics to draw conclusions and adjust policies. It is a pity the industry is providing POEA/OWWA with so much data but POEA still seems to struggle processing. MARINA is moving much faster.
Once all Seafarers are registered in the MARINA Integrated Seafarers Management On-Line (MISMO), this system can provide detailed statistics by 2021 when most active Seafarers will have registered in MISMO they have to renew certificates. Until then, we have to make do with what we get and duplicate data from different agencies.
Light on the end of the tunnel may be the improved communication between government agencies like MARINA, CHEd and POEA which hopefully leads to exchange and linking of systems to get rid of duplications.
MW. If growth stagnates or even falls back, what could be the reasons and how can we remedy?
JM: First, recognize that the Philippines has a lot going and will continue to play an important role. If we are to loose some ground, then this is most likely to three C’s: Costs, Claims and Complacency.
The Philippines is no longer the only low cost option. Owners shift to other nationalities. It’s a personal choice often driven by commercial pressures. I always say you do not have to be the cheapest as long as you make sure you are the best. Performance counts. It’s about cost vs. quality.
Claims remains a sensitive issue despite stricter legislations. The industry seems to shoot itself at the foot by insisting for arbitration through the NCMB in most CBA’s in the hope this would lead to more balanced verdicts than was the case in NLRC.
It did not. Quite the opposite happened, as I understand from P&I representatives. Irony has it that at the same time NLRC verdicts seem to become more balanced. So one step forward and one step back and clearly a work in progress as it seems to rattle stakeholders and sets the Philippines apart from other nationalities.
Being complacent emerges if you have been successful for a long time and loose sight of what is going on around you. Do not take your position for granted. That applies to the Philippines as a leader in global manning. It is also what we tell our seafarers: ‘Do not take anything for granted. Let performance do the talking’.
I still think that if our Officers and Crew on board work as a team, look after each other and the interests of the shipowner, and let performance do the talking they are a very hard team to beat.
MW. Any suggestion or aspiration for the Philippines?
Aim higher beyond clearing the next audit. Focus on clearing the EMSA audit and become fully compliant but beyond that we should aim higher. Making the minimum standard is maybe good enough for some but let’s not stop there.
If we want to create maritime professionals of the future that drive growth, we should aim and aspire higher. Our cadets have to compete globally with starters who come with a better education. Some even with four or five years of education. I am not an advocate to lengthen the education but let’s have a look at the present system.
A good step forward was the implementation of the K12 which added two years to the high school basis. If spend well on additional math/science skills, this will improve the level of enrolees in maritime colleges. Maritime colleges still consists for about 1/3 of general non-maritime topics. We may reduce this to 20%, but it still means, at least, 6 months in a 3-year maritime college is lost to non-maritime topics like ‘appreciation for the arts.’
The burden for making up for this gap is left to the shipowners who have invested heavily in additional training and onboard development. Do not take for granted they will continue to do so forever. And what about new skills required for the future?
Keep innovating, keep improving and you will have the future. That is the challenge. Aim for a full glass instead of a glass half-full.