I started discussing with Mr. Diakogiannis in the absolute same way as I do with many (maybe too many) on LinkedIn: Mr. Diakogiannis wanted to promote his business on Maritime Group and the Futureoftheocean team administrator warned him about the rules of the group regarding promotions.
Different to 99% of the people willing to advertise on the Maritime Group, Mr. Diakogiannis din’t deny his intention to advertise his maritime recruitment business but he also insisted that behind his business is a far more generous intention. This statement was intriguing enough to trigger this interview… and I trust that you will find that this discussion worth your time.
Thank you very much Mr. Diakogiannis for finding time to discuss with Futureoftheocean team your ideas about recruiting for the shipping industry. I understood that you and your team come with something new and… generous? Do I recall well? This was your word?
Indeed, our mission is to provide a fair and simple recruitment process to seafarers across the world.
I was born in Greece therefore in a way, sea is in my blood. I started my career at a technology startup in Germany, which got me interested in technology and data. Later I continued in management consulting and I came closer to the maritime industry. As a Greek engineer, I always found shipping exciting.I stumbled upon maritime crewing and I thought that recruiting agencies are outdated, plagued by old and not so healthy habitsand not in line with the trend of digitization in the industry. By talking to crew managers and seafarers, I was shocked to find out that seafarers need a sponsor to get a job - someone to vet them inside the recruiting agencies and then promote their profile to employers. In mostcases the sponsorship includes a financial incentive for the sponsor, which is illegal based on global maritime regulation.
This also impacts shipping companies because they don’t get access to the best seafarers, but to those that can afford a sponsor.
This is a very sad and disturbing picture. What do you think that could be the solution for escaping from this situation?
The industry needs more transparency. A properly designed digital platform, paired with transparent processes both for shipping companies and seafarers can help democratize this process. When vetting a seafarer, it’s important for agencies to have some data-driven points to show to shipping companies how the seafarer performed. At the same time, a platform can help seafarers with all the steps of the application process, from writing a CV to completing all the required tasks pre-embarkation. And to be clear - technology and data are just enablers. The recruiting process is obviously something that has to be managed and supervised by humans. So this platform does not replace the human interaction - it just makes it more transparent, efficient and seamless.
This sounds quite thrilling and I can observe how excited you are about this perspective.
However, such ideas are not popping up from thin air… it should be more behind, a story?
I was born in a privileged environment and did not have to fight for many things in life up to the age of 18. Soon after I joined med-school, I just felt that my dream was not to become a doctor. At that point I felt that many things in my life changed, and I started working very hard to make an impact. I worked hard in different parts of the world, from Germany to Hong Kong and from Saudi Arabia to the US. In these countries, I came across poverty and redefined the word difficulty. I was also very homesick and understood how important my family, my country and my friends are. I realized that it’s extremely difficult to work away from home and your beloved ones.
When I came across the work of seafarers, it reminded me of my days away from home. I read stories of people who spent 12 months at sea; it was inspiring. When I realized that seafarers might have to give a share of their salary to an agent to find a job like this, I got angry. These people work day and night away from home under tough conditions - any cent they make belongs to them and their families.
This sounds as an amazing journey and I agree that homesickness won’t bypass somebody just because is in favourable position…
However, how did you come to the idea of a service what will democratize the access to the work opportunities for seafarers?
I can’t tell you about a precise moment but I remember when I found out that many sailors have to bribe to get a chance to… work hard. Working on a commercial vessel is a very tough job and in many cases dangerous, so it’s crazy for someone to have to bribe to get a contract on a vessel.
A tipping point was when I understood that this process does not really serve the other side, shipping companies. Shipowners want good quality, vetted seafarers who can actually do the job. So the sponsor process only serves intermediaries, and not the key people in the transaction. Shipping companies don’t always get the best crews because in many cases the professional records are falsified, the skills are just falsified, some medical records are fraudulent… So agencies have an incentive to become creative with a seafarer’s CV to push forward an improved version of the candidate and convince a shipping company that they’re a good fit for them. Moreover, we believe it’s important to add an element of soft-skills assessment for seafarers. The job does not only require hard-skills, it also needs the ability to socialize and co-exist with a group of 20-25 people for long periods of time. This is an element that has not been studied enough yet, and we want to put some science behind it.
But your company is also a placement agency therefore something what it is not business for other agencies should not be good business for you as well…
This is fundamentally wrong. I think that this is a very simplistic logic and this idea is a generalized problem of our times: our only success criterion is money and nothing else…
Our vision is not only about money but it is also about making things better.
Obviously we are a commercial entity, we have stakeholders and employees and both expect to get a return on their investment of money or time. This does not mean that we will solve everything at once, but we have solid foundations and values that will help us meet our goal. We have a set of people who left jobs with higher paying salaries to come and challenge an industry. We are all motivated by the people who move the world forward. It’s important to us to leave a legacy behind us. Just to give you an example, we value transparency so much that we maintain it internally too - every member of our team knows everyone else’s salary and benefits. On top of this, we make it clear for everybody that our company treats all people equally, from the richest shipowner in the world to the most junior cadet - they might have different power in the industry, but they have the same right to be treated fairly and with respect.
You objectives are very generous Mr. Diakogiannis but what are your solutions to all these issue?
Do you think that you can share some more details?
We believe that “big data” is part of the solution. We want to leverage the ocean of data we have from seafarer experiences, certificates, appraisals to help shipping companies make the right vetting and select the right seafarers for the right vessels. We want to act as assistants to the people who review this data, and present it in a way that will be insightful for them. We don't expect data to replace any human decision, but we expect human decisions to improve with the use of transparent data.
The website supporting this vision is seafair.io.
The button below will guide you to the site.
How could the truth emerge from the big data? Could you please give an example?
The truth I named is something more general than the truth in the logic pair “true and false”.
The truth I want to refer is about the real information about the seafarers registered with our site.
We’ve built in collaboration with specialists, special tests for understanding better the personal and the professional profile of these people, their needs and finally their aspirations.
All these tests are free to be taken by all the seafarers registering on our site and the results of these tests are made available to them for free.
For example, our tests could determine the real skills and aptitudes of a person.
In the case of a young professional, these qualities could qualify him or her to get a start (cadet or training) position on a certain type of ship.
In the case of a more experienced seafarers these qualities could help him to advance in career or get a better job.
We use the results of these tests for doing more than finding the best jobs matches for our seafarers.
Based on these results we try to guide them professionally, to support them to advance in carrier by getting the right training and as much as possible the right opportunities.
Another delicate aspect is to find the optimal personality match for a certain crew structure or task.
What makes a good team at sea? We hear many people telling us that for example Russians don't work well with Indonesians, and while they provide some reasons, we are not convinced. We want to dig deeper to understand what makes an optimal crew mix. Sometimes we observe data points and believe that we have identified insights. We still believe that insights in maritime crewing are to be found.
Do you believe that the algorithms you are using on your platform might have biases?
That’s a great question, and we ask ourselves the same internally at Seafair. The answer is maybe, but we are working on it. The accountability of most manning agencies stops after finding and preparing the right candidate for a shipping company - in a few cases it’s extended to the point where a claim might be handled. Our accountability goes well beyond that point. We work closely with shipping companies and seafarers to track the satisfaction of both sides after the completion of a contract, and we gather data on the performance of a vessel while the seafarer was onboard. We use this data to “train” the algorithm in an effort to find what a perfect match between a shipping company and a seafarer is. We’re still not at a stage to claim that we know exactly what the perfect match is, but we’re actively working to providing the shipping industry with an answer.
However, something is already extremely clear now:
Technology could help preparing people better for working at sea and our analysis helps us providing to the seafarers support for finding their best ways on the sea.
Technology could also support an improved transparency of all processes related to the work on sea which otherwise are in many cases hidden by the distance between the shore and the ship.
As a native Greek democracy is part of my heritage therefore the ultimate scope is to democratize the access to work opportunities for seafarers with the help of the modern technologies!
Mr. Diakogiannis has provided the screen capture of the Seafair website and his portrait picture.
Ms. Ramona Popa has the credit for the other pictures.
The graffiti works are part of Don Side Project in Aberdeen, UK.
The stickers have been posted on a post from the Aberdeen Beach Boulevard and one post in the proximity of the same Don Side Project.
Ms. Popa works could be found on FaceBook, Instagram and Etsy – nickname Mony Wee Bonnie.
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