Career Spotlight - Operations
Cordell Beaumont’s “Career Spotlight” series explores career paths within the shipping and energy industries, sharing insight from three generations of shipping history and recruitment experience.
In our opening post, we look at the Operations market and the varied career trajectories it includes.
A central factor in shaping careers in operations is the type of company that operators work for. Each of these fits differently into the global supply chain, requiring different skill sets from its operations teams and concentrating on a range of different objectives.
Both new candidates looking to launch their careers in operations and experienced professionals evaluating how to plan their next step can benefit from understanding the differences between different employer types – specifically how the business category of an employer can impact roles and skills within operations.
In broad terms, operations employers can be broken down into three main categories:
Working in operations directly for shipowners usually involves responsibilities linked to vessel performance. With a focus on commercial, technical and marine operations, roles often concentrate on efficiency, safety and profitability of fleet management, maintenance and deployment.
- Oil majors & charterers
Roles in the energy and chartering sector normally have a stronger emphasis on commerce, requiring expertise in trading, freight, cargoes and a detailed understanding of the commercial relationships between different business types.
In the shipbroking domain, operators need an affinity for facilitating communications between charterers and shipowners, focusing on demurrage, claims, post-fixture and other key tasks which underpin the successful partnership between vessel owners and their customers.
Types of Operations
Along with the type of employer, the other major differentiator between operations career tracks is the focus of the ops role itself. Although ‘operations’ may appear in hundreds of job titles across the shipping and energy sectors, the in-role realities can vary substantially from one to the next – drawing on different candidate experiences and demanding very different competencies.
The three main role types cover:
- Vessel Operations
Vessel Operations centres on performance analysis and optimisation of maritime fleets, including: minimisation of demurrage and voyage costs, management of charter party contractual obligations, regular communication with crew, port agents, charterers, brokers and ship management teams, and an all-around focus on optimal usage of fleet resources.
Roles in vessel ops are usually suited to ex-seafarers, but are also common career rotes for academic graduates with a shipping focus, as well as tech-savvy maritime professionals with exposure to programmes such as IMOS, Softmar, Compass etc.
Ops roles in this domain require strong commitment and can require professionals to be accessible on a 24/7 basis, often including weekend work and home-based responsibilities around core office schedules.
From a career perspective, professional paths in this discipline can lead to long-term careers in vessel operations, such as global operations management roles, leading regional or international fleets, as well as opening the door for a transition over to becoming a charterer or chartering manager for a shipowner or ship operating company.
At the entry level, salaries can range from £25-30,000, from £35-50,000 once 2-4 years of experience are accumulated, and 5-10+ years positioning most professionals in the £60-90,000 earnings bracket.
- Commercial Operations
Commercial Operations roles can overlap with some of the responsibilities listed above, but typically involve a greater focus on the profit and loss analysis of fleet. This includes voyage-by-voyage performance analysis, identifying cost-saving opportunities, close collaboration with senior commercial teams and working on strategic commercial projects, such as long-term charters or vessel purchases.
Commercial roles are often the go-to entry point for highly numerate graduates with strong commercial acumen (and strong Excel skills!), as well as being an opportunity for a career pivot for experienced vessel operators looking to leverage their expertise in a commercial capacity.
Professionals with a commercial background can progress up corporate career ladders into financial analysis roles, as well as graduating to senior commercial leadership positions running larger P&L jurisdictions.
Commercial Operators often start between £30-35,000, include salaries from £40-60,000 after 2-4 years’ experience, and can pay £70-100,000+ for professionals with 5-10+ years.
- Freight / Cargo Operator
Careers in chartering can be very rewarding, focusing on the logistics of international cargo shipments.
Given the nature of most freight employers, the corporate environment can be different from other fields (often larger companies with a more established, traditional culture). Salaries are among the strongest of all operations sectors, but with this comes increased competition – often fed by highly effective graduate programs.
Chartering roles have a core focus on trade analysis and tend to be fast-paced positions that involve less interaction with physical ships or crews. There is often less visibility into vessels themselves, and those who enjoy direct contact with the shipping community don’t always thrive in the document/spreadsheet-heavy environment.
However, this distance from physical shipping means there is usually less demand from employers for candidate experience in technical shipping and accompanying certifications.
Careers in freight and cargo operations can transition into Freight Trader or Freight Management roles, leading larger commercial teams.
Salaries in the sector usually begin in the £35-40,000 bracket, rising to £45-70,000 with 2-4 years’ experience, and continuing to £80-125,000+ for top candidates offering 5-10 years.