Judith van de Graaf has been working as a human resource manager (HR manager) at Mercurius Shipping Group for over four years. The company consists of collaborations between different shipping entrepreneurs. Mercurius builds, invests, operates and charters vessels and also offers support services. In her position Judith is mainly involved in recruitment, selection and coaching staff.
Before joining Mercurius, Judith worked in technology and logistics. Industries that have a lot in common with inland shipping. “It’s all a bit of a male culture and that appeals to me,” she says. “I love that hands-on mentality. People in inland shipping are straightforward and proud of their profession. When I first worked here, I didn’t know anything about the profession, but I did show an interest. And then people start telling you everything. Yet they are also open to new ideas, which is very nice.”
Although Judith ended up in the sector by chance, she is clearly in her place. Working with people makes her job varied. Judith: “It’s different every time. When you discuss something with one person, you have a very different conversation than when you discuss it with another. That’s what makes it fun. You never know how it’s going to turn out in advance. That is the case in regular business anyway, but specifically here. In inland shipping there is still a lot to tackle and improve but that also makes it fun. You have a feeling you are taking steps together and making a difference.”
According to Judith, there is still a lot of room for improvement in the field of HR in inland shipping. This is mainly due to the specific way of working. “Everything is remote, we are never there ourselves,” she explains. “You have to make sure that people are aware what the reasons are to connect with HR. Originally, the idea is that the captains on the ship arrange everything. But if you are educated as a captain or skipper, HR is not really a focus element. Some people are good at it, some others less so. For example, you notice this during performance appraisals. It is important they are provided with the tools to do this.”
For Mercurius, innovation is extremely important. There is a lot going on in the sector itself, she says. “We are working on alternative fuels, autonomous sailing is also a development and there is a labor shortage that we are working on.” In order to keep up with these challenges and developments, there has been more cooperation between the various companies and organisations in inland shipping. “That used to be much less, but is really a necessity now. Together we are stronger”.
Communication, collaboration and coaching: themes in which Airoc can make a difference, Judith found out. “We came into contact with the Airoc App through students from the inland student programme. They used the app for school and we received information about it. We discovered how the app works and what the students can and must do with it,” she says. “We were in regular contact with Martin and Elise and noticed how Airoc developed further. At a certain point, Martin and Elise came up with the idea to make the app interesting for employers as well. We then started the conversation together to look into what Airoc can do for us.”
Why chose Airoc?
Because Mercury had already become acquainted with Airoc through the students, the transition was easier. “The app gave us guidelines and tools to develop our people. We were very much looking for a way on how to improve the performance appraisals. Both crew members and managers are often not used to such conversations. People want to develop but such topics were hardly discussed. We figured that we could clearly monitor this with use of the app. By monitoring the performance appraisals via the app, we see whether the employee and employer share the same ideas and pinpoint any differences. Both parties can also improve the preparation for the conversation. Instead of the occasional phone call about how things are going on the ship, there is so much more interaction. You can now see for yourself how things are going, where things are slipping and why. The app is extremely accessible and can be used at any location. The fact that we are in the office and the crew is on board does not matter,” says Judith.
The fact that it was a pilot version did not worry Judith. “We knew it works for schools. That gave us a lot of confidence. The basics are already in place, just the content has changed. Airoc is constantly developing and we notice that they themselves also look at where improvements lie and what steps can be taken. That felt really good. The short communication lines at Airoc also helped. If I had any comments I emailed Miranda (Operations Manager – HYPERLINK TEAM PAGE MIRANDA) and immediately received feedback that it had been discussed. A moment later it was already updated. Because it is a pilot, you can test all you want and find out what is or is not useful. And if you don’t try, of course you don’t know if it works.”
How Airoc responded
After a number of conversations Judith said a resounding yes to Airoc. Soon the first ship will start with a pilot version. “I approached the captains of the ships. It is important that they can also work with it. These captains are active in conversations and look at the development of people. You have to find the right people to do this project with you. This group is going to see if it is workable. We can think of ideas in the office, but they are the ones that have to work with it. We are very curious to see what it will look like when the first real results come in.”
The fact that everyone ultimately functions well within Mercury is important to Judith, but also their feedback and input. What’s not going well? Why can the collaboration be better? Judith: “You really have to want to improve together. As a company, but also on board, everyone is really a team. The better that works, the better it is for everyone. If all goes well, you just have a better time when you’re on the ship for a week or two.”
That is why a good introduction of the app is important. “We want to make sure that captains and crew members know exactly how it works and why we use it. We’re going to consider that. If we introduce it well on the front end, we hope that the useage goes better and increases. The captains who started working with Airoc from the schools sometimes had questions about this,” she explains. Judith is therefore looking forward to the coming weeks. She is looking forward to all the input.