For Better and for worse: Seafaring as a career for life?

Polina Baum-Talmor

    Research output: Published contribution to conferenceAbstract


    Seafaring is generally regarded as a demanding profession, considering among other factors the long periods of time seafarers spend away from their families, their isolated work environment and the physical hardships of work at sea. Despite those difficulties, however, over 1.3 million seafarers from all over the world (BIMCO 2010) work in the shipping industry, being responsible for over 95% of the world’s trade . This paper focuses on the reasons that brought seafarers to join this occupation, and on the possibility of developing a professional identity in a contractual labor market. Specifically, through ethnographic research methods that included semi-structured interviews and informal conversations, I have spoken to over 70 seafarers from developing and developed countries, exploring their work aspirations and their planned career trajectories.
    Seafarers working in the shipping industry are generally employed as part of flexible work arrangements. Flexible employment means that work is mostly based on a contractual labor force, which conveys that after seafarers finish their contract on board a single vessel that generally lasts for one voyage, they are not guaranteed with being hired for another contract, leaving them unemployed for an unspecified period of time. Apart from the financial predicaments that arise as a result of those flexible work arrangements, seafarers also face an unpredictable employment future.
    The shipping industry is similar to other flexible industries in the global labor market that utilize flexible work arrangements. As a result of those flexible work arrangements, the concept of having a career for life has almost been diminished from the global labor market, leaving over 75% of employees nowadays in non-permanent positions (ILO 2015). Those flexible work arrangements brought forward a new type of career that could be referred to as “portfolio career” (Mallon 1998) or “boundaryless career” (Arthur and Rousseau 1996), implying that individual’s career identity is independent of the employer (Banai and Wes 2004).
    Considering the flexible work arrangements within the shipping industry, seafarers would not be expected to develop a professional identity due to the lack of continuity in their employment. The findings of the research however suggest that seafarers develop some level of professional identity in seafaring, which often prevents them from finding employment in other fields.

    This paper is based on the second empirical chapter in the PhD thesis entitled: “The notion of ‘career’ in globalized industries: The case of seafarers”, and presents some of the findings of the thesis relating to career development and aspirations of joining the seafaring occupation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2016
    EventLiverpool Management School Annual Ethnography Symposium - UWE (University of West England), Bristol, United Kingdom
    Duration: 26 Aug 2016 → …


    ConferenceLiverpool Management School Annual Ethnography Symposium
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    Period26/08/16 → …
    Internet address


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