September 05, 2013

Won’t get fooled again

My generation of Indians went out to sea following our hearts. Most in today’s generation appear to go out to sea either following their heads or following nothing at all.  That, in itself, is neither good nor bad; it is just the way it is. 

Those that follow their heads are chasing money; those following nothing at all have been bamboozled by touts or misguided by friends (and, sometimes, family) into joining. The reality of the profession is not helped by fraudulent misguidance from many training institutions, or, for that matter, from leading newspapers printing articles saying that the profession is a ‘paid vacation’. Don’t laugh; that was the exact phrase used in the Education Times, a weekly supplement to of the Times of India devoted to careers and career guidance. Incidentally, The Hindustan Times carried a similar radioactively glowing but downright false piece on the profession of seafaring almost concurrently.

There is one thing in common between the head followers and the nothing followers of today- both are usually academically not good enough to get a place in the institutions that feed higher paying professions ashore. Many, in fact, are not good enough, particularly in English and Mathematics, to get into maritime training establishments either, but they do, because MET setups, with some notable exceptions, seem to accept almost anybody.

Leaving aside issues of calibre and commitment, or, indeed, of the degradation of the Indian seaman that is well underway, this change poses particular problems for the industry going forward. A time will soon come when both the head followers and the nothing followers will have made a little money and moved ashore, sick of the seaman’s life of today, succumbing to what I call the seven year itch. Low calibre or not, low commitment or not, some may even move into shore side shipping jobs; the bar is often pretty low there too. They may fill the slots, but, like they did at sea, most will not do much more than that. They just don’t have it in them. 

The low commitment and calibre issue s with the young that senior sailing officers complain about today are therefore going to percolate ashore. The on-going devaluation of the Indian seaman is set to translate, in the not too distant future, to the degradation and devaluation of the Indian shipmanager. 
I can think of only one solution to this mess, and that is this: train only those you can place on board. Guaranteed on board training slots in decently reputed shipping firms attracts a higher calibre of entrant; shipmanagement companies running MET setups that absorb their own graduates will attest to that. We may not get the numbers we had when the heart-followers were the norm; that does not matter. Quality has to come first. Numbers can come later.

One problem may remain. My generation of heart-followers had an easy entry into the profession, because on- board training slots were guaranteed once Pre-Sea training was completed. However, as time passed, some of us chose to disregard the drawbacks of the profession, especially the cavalier treatment that the industry meted out to us. Others, especially those who fell out of love with seafaring, did not disregard these, though. Many still curse at what they see as wasted years. They feel that they have been fooled, somehow.

In contrast, the young of today, with some exceptions, are cheated from the start, exposed to touts, low quality training standards and ‘placement fees’ even before they have begun their careers. No surprises then, that whether they are head followers or nothing followers, they have no illusions from the outset. We, the industry, have disinvested them of those with our fickle callousness and rampant corruption.
It is probably true that some of my generation were fooled later by the lip service paid to them or by the pathetic exhortations made by shipmanagers seeking their ‘loyalty’; perhaps some seamen could not differentiate between loyalty to the profession and loyalty to a shipping company, and were taken for a ride as a result. 

Somehow I don’t think the same thing will happen with the present lot, because I sense that many are well aware that they are being fooled from the start. They are wary. Their guard is up. And they are- because of reasons of circumstance and temperament both- pretty fickle themselves.

They won’t get fooled again. 


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