When it comes to career planning, existing platforms like LinkedIn aren't always a good fit for seafarers. Rob Coston speaks to Fraser Matthew about PROPEL, a company he has created with two partners to give maritime professionals the same technological advantages enjoyed by shore-based workers
How did the idea for PROPEL come about?
My partners and I are all seafarers. We were appalled in the summer at the treatment of seafarers by recruitment agencies which control access to jobs. Our partner Stuart McKenna was doing a survey of a ship in Southampton in the summer of 2020, and even at that point in the pandemic crew had been onboard 15 months. There has been an increase in demands on seafarers to comply with company decisions to extend contracts and cancel crew changes while continuing to perform their duties onboard at the same standard.
As an industry, we are perhaps one of the worst for embracing new technology. There isn't a site like LinkedIn that's specific for the maritime industry, so we decided to create one.
On PROPEL you can have your own digital CV, discharge book and social platform, so you can control your own career and hunt for jobs directly rather than going through crewing and recruitment agencies.
It allows you to build your own record of your career from cadet to master or chief engineer, keep track of which ships you've been on and your sea time. It's also a secure platform for your certificates. We want to bring all the career tools you need into one place
What's the user experience of PROPEL?
You begin by signing up and creating a profile. This starts by determining what area of the industry you are in – for example, deck or engineering – and then you can enter qualifications and STCW requirements. You can list all the ships you have worked on and the site will find them on the World Shipping Database. Add your joining and leaving dates and the site will calculate your sea time.
Seafarers can use the site to look for their next contract. Normally when you look for a job there's so many agencies you must sign up with, whereas with a site like this it's in one place. Having your own profile puts the user in charge; this will enable us to weed out bad crewing agencies and allows the user to build a more beneficial relationship with the good agencies. It gives the seafarer what job seekers on land already have – control.
Seafarers set up a profile to use the site as a social platform – for example, the Secret Captain is a member and is posting updates about the crew change crisis. Social will be boosted in version 2 with a cleaner design and app launch.
What was it like launching a new business in a pandemic?
We worked with a team of programmers to develop an open source platform into what we needed, put it online to beta test it in May 2020, then launched in June. We were hoping to do events with the colleges but with Covid they're all online learning, so we couldn't do that yet!
The uptake has been great, especially in the UK, India and the Philippines. Maybe it's because people are spending even more time online. The job market hasn't been the best during Covid, but people are actively looking for work.
The site is up to 11,500 users and we've posted 2,500 jobs. There's definitely an appetite out there for it so we'll keep on making it more user friendly and adding more features like hours of rest records and a new suitability score that assesses your CV against jobs on the site.
Our aim is to build a comprehensive register of seafarers so we can go directly to the shipping companies and get access to their jobs immediately.
How can seafarers get involved?
We are looking to raise £150,000 for a 10% stake in the company via crowdfunding so that we can bring in full time administrators for the system and for the social side.
Since we're building this for the community, we thought crowdfunding would be a chance for interested parties to come in and become a shareholder. If you are interested, you can find us at www.crowdcube.com/propel.