Rookie’s Guide to a Career at Sea (and Beyond) [Part 1]
A new career pathway is always daunting, and especially so for a completely new industry! Regardless of an individual’s background, maritime has doors for anyone who is motivated to take a step forward into this dynamic and exciting industry. In this two-part series, two professionals will be sharing more on their experiences and how they got started in their respective roles. If you are looking to embark on your maritime journey, read further!
In today’s series, Beh Hongbin, a 5th Engineer at Thome Ship Management, has always been interested in maritime and wanted to make his mark in the industry. His role as a Marine Engineer requires him to ensure that all machinery under his supervision is regularly monitored and maintained, while carrying out scheduled maintenance operations to eliminate any chances of sudden breakdowns.
Taking a step into Maritime
Hongbin, who graduated from Singapore Polytechnic, Singapore Maritime Academy (SMA) Diploma in Marine Engineering (DMR), remembers his lecturer as one of the biggest motivators behind his choice to join maritime as a seafarer.
“During my academy days, I had a lecturer who always encouraged me to become a good engineer. He provided a lot of guidance and pushed me to take up courses that are relevant to maritime. With his encouragement, I was even able to be shortlisted for multiple scholarships, including the Tripartite Maritime Scholarship (TMSS) awarded by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).”
Another push that got him into maritime was his friend who was working in maritime. “He’d always share his experiences of sailing with me.”
In terms of qualifications, Hongbin comes from a technical background. “The knowledge I gained in polytechnic gave me a brief idea about the machineries onboard ships and how they function,” he says. However, what he considers most important is the practical application of his knowledge and the experience he has acquired onboard. Hongbin’s work responsibilities also requires him to think on his feet, since repair jobs can sometimes even require fabricating parts. In these instances, “skills play a part,” says Hongbin.
It is not unusual for a fresh candidate to hold initial misconceptions about the maritime industry. In Hongbin’s case, this was no different.
“I know that it is not easy to become a seafarer onboard a ship, as this requires me to be away from home and my family for months.” Hongbin shares. “But I am a person who is very independent, and the challenging work environment gives me the push to work harder and allows me to feel fulfilled.”
Despite the tough work conditions at times, he was also attracted to the maritime industry which gave him the opportunity to visit numerous countries and work with people from all around the world.
The Industry Grows on You
First impressions do not always last. For Hongbin, it was the challenges in his role that appealed to him the most and allowed him to become a better engineer. Day by day, work started growing on him. This was especially so when Hongbin just started his first ship as an Engineer and was assigned a routine maintenance task as the lead.
“I was nervous at the beginning as I did not have a strong understanding of the machineries that I was going to work with.”
However, Hongbin persevered by reading through manuals as much as possible before the project and by ensuring that all steps were completed meticulously.
“I spent a long day disassembling, cleaning, replacing [the machineries] with new seals and parts, and ran multiple tests to ensure that everything was running smoothly.” To him, this was probably one of his most rewarding moments to date.
“Every time the problems get solved, I feel a sense of achievement and I gain some knowledge from the situation,” he explains.
Maritime Industry a Promising Career Option
At times, Hongbin experiences initial hesitations whenever a new contract term approaches. Especially during the pandemic, he shares that it is not always the easiest experience due to the lack of shore leaves where seafarers will be allowed ashore as a break from their work onboard.
However, when he weighs these hesitations against the ability to enrich his professional experiences—while making new friends along his voyages—his doubts are quickly dispelled.
“When these thoughts come across my mind, it gives me motivation to take up the job and sign on,” he reaffirms.
Hongbin admits that his experience in the maritime industry has been a rewarding one. In fact, he recommends it to aspiring jobseekers wholeheartedly. Amid high unemployment rates that prevail across most sectors currently due to the pandemic, the maritime industry is one that offers safety and security.
“It is an industry that will not stop operating as we are the main source of transportation that every country uses to import and export their goods,” he affirms.
The maritime industry offers myriad job roles and aspirants do not need to have relevant study or work experience. In addition to being a sound career choice, Hongbin says maritime work experience hones one for future careers – spanning managerial, teaching, or technical profiles.
“In my opinion, therefore, the maritime industry is a good place to start and grow one’s career,” he opined.