Article: COVID-19 has made us open up and move forward: an example from the maritime industry

Employee Engagement

COVID-19 has made us open up and move forward: an example from the maritime industry

By disrupting traditionally-minded organizations and professions, COVID-19 has forcibly changed mindsets and working cultures to allow room for innovation and new thinking.
COVID-19 has made us open up and move forward: an example from the maritime industry

The disruption caused by COVID-19 has frequently been rough on companies and industries with a "traditional" mindset, but at the same time, by forcing these organizations out of their comfort zone, it has opened the way for them to move forward. One industry now experiencing that opportunity is maritime, according to what speakers at an industry event shared earlier this week.

"The shipping industry is not necessarily known for innovation," said Mark Ko, the executive director of Tian San Shipping. Speaking at a forum organized by the Maritime Singapore Connect Office, he highlighted that the industry's characteristics—delivery, consistency, and what he described as a mindset of "gung-ho and tough image"—are not exactly an ideal breeding ground for innovation.

In the past, this had led to companies being unable to attract younger talent. However COVID-19 has made two major differences in the industry. Firstly, it has altered the workplace culture and the general mindset: with the sudden shift to digitization, people in the industry have had to become more open to the use of technology and new methods.

Secondly, the economic impact of the pandemic has made job-seekers more open to the industry. Maritime companies have had more success in finding younger, more highly educated candidates who would usually have sought out other options. These candidates bring innovative thinking and tech-savviness, and they bring it at a time when companies are now prepared to give them a chance to exercise their skills.

"The younger interns normally would not express their IT knowledge so freely, but now the older staff are more open to allowing them to use their skills," Ko observed of his own company's experience. "We have been working much faster and more efficiently as a result."

HR must also learn from this mindset shift

HR professionals—whether in the maritime industry, or in other sectors—can similarly take this opportunity to adjust their mindsets, according to Mayank Parekh, CEO of the Institute for Human Resource Professionals. Speaking at the same forum, he explained that while HR practitioners have typically tended to go with "gut feel", COVID-19, with the emphasis it has brought to employee well-being, now represents an opportunity for HR to move forward into a more analytical position and to become more data driven in terms of providing insights on the workforce.

"Don't be afraid to try," he urged practitioners, pointing out that HR professionals do in fact have the capability to step beyond their current role, as proven by how they have risen to the challenge in the last nine months. "A lot of HR people are experienced and good at what they do, and that shows in their response to the crisis."

The crisis, in fact, has forcibly advanced HR's position in much the same way as it has forced workplace culture in the maritime sector to open up. Ng Hwee Leng, director of people and organization at IMC Industrial Group, pointed out that while HR's role has conventionally been to provide guidelines, rules, and conditions, COVID-19 has pushed even the more traditional HR practitioners to start handling issues that are very close to people's hearts—such as physical, mental, and emotional well-being, the way business challenges affect people personally, and even the way people grow and develop within an organization.

"This volatility and uncertainty will continue," she predicted. "We should constantly develop the mindset of innovation and creativity. For HR professionals, learning agility is critical."

"We should not restrict ourselves to looking at our function alone—it is not just about that defined scope, it is about reaching out to people and finding ways to grow them."

Moving forward, the speakers said, there has to be more innovation and creativity within the HR function; more overall willingness to partner with the business and to actively take steps to prepare employees, managers, and leadership for the future.

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Topics: Employee Engagement

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