Navy moves “aggressively” to curb skills loss

The South African Navy is moving “aggressively” to address an ongoing loss of skills caused by sailors resigning to follow more lucrative careers in the local and international maritime industry.   
Navy director maritime plans Rear Admiral (Junior Grade) Sagaren Pillay says the about 5000-strong sea service has lost an average of 200 sailors a year in the combat, engineering and technical musterings since 2004. The figure was just over 100 in 2004 and peaked at 500 in 2007. For 2008 the figure is 200.
“Of course we`ve had to do something about it… a personnel retention strategy was crafted,” Pillay says, adding that the retention of skilled personnel is a challenge “we are addressing as aggressively as we need to.”
For the submarine service, ministerial approval is awaited for a special allowance and for direct recruiting from the military skills development system (MSDS). With the average submariner aged 18-25, emphasis is also being placed on introducing a special uniform, including a leather jacket, a special badge and a submariner-specific watch.
The Navy is also mulling of submariner-specific career management section and the introduction of a “squadron-type concept” for morale purposes.         
Pillay adds the Navy`s submarine recruitment website has had 10 000 hits since April, showing the number of people interested in joining or enquiring about the submarine fraternity.”
In terms of diver retention, “we have had some success,” says Pillay. “Supervisor training has been increased, we utilise Reserve Force supervisors and that seems to be paying off dividends.
“Recruiting has been done nationally. Remuneration packages are being improved and what we will pursue aggressively in the New Year is foreign learning opportunities with those countries that have a similar doctrine top ourselves.”
Divers have also been allocated their own accommodation, Pillay further adds. “Pay is not necessarily the main driver. There are other factors that cause people to leave the organisation,” he notes, adding that “divers want to live with divers”.
In the technical training field, he says the Navy currently has 262 sailors under training, 22 more than their rated capacity of 240. The Navy is also reviewing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Durban University of Technology and is reviewing its technical allowance. It has also revised its technical curriculum, reducing training time by 40 to 60% by moving the focus from academic to practical, on the job training. Pillay says this was done without dropping standards.             
Pillay says the Navy will from 2010 boost its MSDS intake by 100, from 700 to 800, trained in two cohorts, January and July. “The MSDS is an important feeder into the navy in terms of readiness,” he says. “This is principally where the navy derives its manpower from and how it alleviates its skills shortages.”
Navy chief director maritime strategy R Adm Bernard Teuteberg adds that since the sea service cannot absorb 800 new sailors into CSS every year and since it wants to actively use its Reserve Force, it has forged a relationship with the maritime industry.    
He says the Navy has hada number of industry days and at these have explained the MSD system as well as the importance of the Navy-industry partnership. We can assist each other in creating better opportunities for our young people,” Teuteberg says. 
Pillay says the Navy from April to September used 14 988 Reserve “mandays”, an amount similar to the entire utilisation for the 2007/8 financial year.   
He adds that the Navy has established a Recruitment and Employment Assistance Agency for MSD sailors allocated to the Reserves and is mulling making bursaries available to them.
“We need to feed our reserves … and those reserves become more useful to us if we allow them not only to study but also to work in the maritime industry.”
Teuteberg says companies that partner with the Navy to provide demobilised MSD sailors employment are “allowed to indicate to us certain core skills they`d like us to include during the training period and therefore it benefits both them and the navy as it ensures the country has a base of young people who can serve as reserves but are also useful in the economic development of our country`.