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  • Writer's pictureLouise Overend

Do you feel like you are searching for crew that don't quite fit what you are looking for? It's a problem I hear every day when talking to my Chief Stews about the crew they are looking for.

Perhaps you are finding that potential Stews only tick so many boxes of the skills you need. Perhaps they don't have the right land-based experience. Perhaps they lack longevity or no one seems to be standing out? It seems many of my Chief Stews are feeling that recruitment can be frustrating and more time-consuming these days than ever before.

The reassuring news is that we are not alone. Did you know that 75% of employers are struggling to find candidates with the right skills for their jobs post COVID-19? Even with the peak of the pandemic now hopefully behind us, we are still feeling the aftershocks of two years of lockdowns across all industries.

With many industries being closed down for such long periods, there is now a huge shortage of people who have had the same opportunities as previous generations to gain the relevant skill sets needed to gain employment. This is creating a big deficit, and the hospitality industry was one of the ones that was hit the hardest!

How did this affect the skills, experience, and longevity of Stews?

Most junior Stews in previous years were entering the industry with years of hospitality and service experience behind them. Now I see many Stews who worked in different roles within the industries that were allowed to operate through COVID-19. Such as social care roles, call centres, admin roles and positions in supermarkets.

This generation of Stews may not have had the chance to get the relevant land-based experience yachting always looked for, but they provided much-needed service to keep their countries up and running, this shows great team playing, grit and determination.

For more experienced Stews already in the industry, longevity was much harder to maintain. Many yachts let go of the more junior crew on board and retained just the most senior essential crew. This echoed through the winter seasons too, with many yachts not confident in crossing for winter seasons, and many positions were only seasonal or temporary.

Often crew would also be hired based purely on location due to flights, as opposed to suitability and skills. The result is that this has left some stews with huge gaps on their CV due to geography, which isn't a reflection on them or where they were heading career-wise pre-pandemic.

What effects is this having now on Chief Stews looking for Stews?

Many of my Chief Stews who come to me, are feeling overwhelmed and frustrated that they have already spent a lot of valuable time going through countless CV's, not seeming to find anyone that ticks all the boxes. But how can that be possible? Unless we are all looking for unicorns, and unicorns, as we know, don't exist. Posting on social media or using multiple agents can result in 100's of CVs arriving, and many aren't always suitable.

My tip: use recruitment agents wisely and efficiently! Select a couple you have a good relationship with and trust, and let us help you! It's a fact that an agent will usually send their top handful of candidates. When the position first comes in we will have already gone through 100's of potentials to select just a few. Even though it may seem that the candidate may not tick all the boxes, an agent's primary drive is to find you a solution and we will select the best candidates based on their experience, skills and personality. So, it's wise to start progressing with these candidates sooner rather than later.

It's like when you are channel surfing, and think: "Oh I like this show! But I'll just keep surfing to see if anything else is on." Turns out there isn't anything as good, and in the meantime, the show you liked has now finished!

The candidate that you first liked but was missing one skill has now taken another position. Leaving you with very limited time to find a replacement and not the best options.

So, how can I find a unicorn? Easy! Train your own!

When it comes to replacing a crew member, it's easy to forget that if someone has been on board a long time, their role will naturally have grown since they first joined. They will have taken on ad-hoc tasks, advanced in certain areas, taken on new responsibilities, and made things 'their own', indeed making them a unicorn onboard, and very hard to replace. However, the time you invest in looking for a unicorn, you could invest in training your own!

A great way to fill this skills gap is to pick a candidate who has great raw talent. You can then provide training to sculpt the perfect crew member. Onboard training is not only a great way to bespoke train your Stews, but can also be fun and team-building.

If time is an issue, lighten the load by using a 2nd or 3rd Stew who is particularly strong in one area, like floristry, or cocktails, and get them to do a 'masterclass' This will not only build confidence amongst all your Stews but it will make all the interior feel invested in each other and will see them succeeding together as a team. Plus, it starts to help you get that fantastic unicorn you are looking for.

Another thing you can do is speak to owners about offering a training budget. This is something that, as a recruiter, I can assure does offer a great incentive for Stews who are looking for new positions. And I'm pleased to say I have seen an increase over the past years.

The Stews feel that they are being invested in and are more likely to commit and offer great longevity. Upskilling is something that is always a great thing to do at any level. Whether it's increasing a passion and knowledge for wines or cocktails, or perhaps a leadership and management course. This type of course teaches you things such as how to recognize talents and skills in different types of personalities and how to get the best out of them - a great investment for someone stepping up into their first leadership position!

Some things you can't train - like personality, energy, emotional intelligence, attitude, and abilities -these are the raw talents that could potentially make for an excellent stew with some additional hard skills training.

It's time for us to recruit smart, not hard, and use that valuable saved time investing in training new crew for the future, and in turn, making our own herd of Unicorns!

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