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Management trainees share their experiences within the maritime industry (Part 1)

Career decisions are always hard to make – perhaps even harder so for students fresh out of university, who may want to explore careers outside of their study.

For these students, the management trainee programme offers a good option for experimentation.

Often branded as a training programme for future leaders, management trainee programmes have been on the uptick in Singapore’s maritime industry. This comes as little surprise, given the strong government funding and support for the country’s maritime workforce, and the efforts of global maritime players who are building up their people and operations in Singapore. These include some of the biggest and best-known names in the maritime world: D/S Norden, and The China Navigation Company.

We catch up with Neo Xuan Ning, 25, Assistant Chartering Manager of the Panamax Chartering team at Norden Shipping (Singapore) and an alumni of the company’s Management Trainee programme, to learn more about her experiences:

A graduate’s foray into maritime, full-time

Asked about her chartering work at Danish shipping company Norden, Ning lights up. And it is clear that she loves what she does.

But back in 2016, on the brink of graduation, the Economics graduate had grappled with several possible career options, including ever-popular banking and finance. It was purely by chance that while browsing her university career portal website for ideas, a posting for the Norden Shipping Trainee programme caught Ning’s eye.

Ning took a moment to reflect on her positive experiences from her previous internship at a maritime company – and with a click to apply, the rest was history.

After several rounds of personality assessment and personnel interviews, Ning was a newcomer to the Norden family. The bubbly young student had passed the highly competitive process to emerge one of the two Norden Management Trainees of her batch.


“Norden’s management trainee programme receives about 200 applications a year,” confirms Priya Gudka, Head of Finance & Accounting Asia, Norden. “While there are many talented applicants, we take in only about two trainees each time.”


Growing to love the maritime industry

Once she accepted the offer, Ning found herself swept off her feet by a whirlwind training programme. Tailored for new joiners, Norden’s two-year management trainee programme comprises job rotations across different teams and intensive learning stints at the company’s country of origin in Denmark. The trainees also clock in hours at the Danish Shipping Academy in Copenhagen, where they meet fellow batchmates starting out in other shipping firms, and immerse themselves in topics ranging from maritime law to maritime economics.

Norden trainees also visit the company’s waterfront headquarters in Tuborg Harbour – a memorable highlight for Ning from her Copenhagen days. Built in 1903, Norden’s headquarter operations are housed in a historical building known as the Brewhouse (“Bryghuset” in Danish), the former production building of the famous Tuborg beer brewery.

In Norden’s management trainee programme, Ning also discovered the quiet charm of the Scandinavian work culture – a flat organisational structure, easy-going working style, and strong emphasis on work-life balance.

Finding the right fit in Chartering

Most importantly, in the course of her job rotations, Ning found her place with the Chartering team at Norden, with her classroom learnings on economics coming to life. Chartering, she explains, is about finding the best deal on employment for a vessel in the market – essentially matchmaking a vessel and cargo for a good price. Typically transported in bulk, such cargo is also known as freight.

“One of the fundamental concepts in economics is the demand-supply theory, and you see this coming into play throughout chartering. When there are many vessels idle out there at sea, chances are that you’ll be able to negotiate an incredible price on your freight,” Ning says.

Getting into the swing of chartering work came with its own set of challenges. For Ning, the transition from traineeship to full-on employment meant that she would be able to make the judgement call on deals, which was exciting – but also meant responsibility on profits and losses for the team.

“Just picking up the phone to talk to brokers was an exercise in itself,” Ning recalls, “because you would worry about having to ask the right questions, crafting your questions to get the most information out of the ship brokers – and your mentor would be asking whether you are absolutely sure you’ve got the best deal!”

Luckily, Ning had the benefit of supportive mentors in the Norden network, and seniors in the maritime community who would share their learnings. “My team would have me explain my thinking behind a certain deal to them, and quiz me to check if I had properly covered my bases. After going through this exercise for a couple of months, the critical thinking process came naturally.”

Priya is full of praise for the young Assistant Chartering Manager, attributing her success to intellectual curiosity and an open mind to learning:

“Trainees today tend to be a little too hard on themselves. What we would like for young employees is for them to give themselves the time to love the industry; to grow their soft skills like learning, networking, and keeping an open, positive mind. Open-mindedness will take you very far in the maritime industry, especially in taking you past some of the common misconceptions around maritime and shipping.”

“It’s true that there are many misconceptions around the maritime industry,” Ning laughs.

“Many people have this misconception that the maritime community works in the shipyard. But to be honest, I’m pretty much an OL (Office Lady)!”

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