Barbara Cobas has the answer. She's launched Ship2Shore Employ, believed to be the first recruitment agency specialized in matching former crew members to virtual cruise line jobs.
'When we saw the cruise lines go back into service [from the pandemic shutdown] and start to hire, a lot of people didn't return to the industry,' Cobas said. One crew member, for example, had to stay home to care for her mother with cancer. 'Anyone who's worked on a ship for 10, 15, 20 years has aging parents or kids getting older that they need to be there for or houses they've built and want to live in,' she continued.
They loved their cruise jobs, they want to work and they have valuable skills.
'The cruise lines cannot lose this equity,' Cobas said. 'They value the experience these individuals have.'
Ideal bridge between ship and shore
Cobas is a former crew member herself, and she's also worked shoreside for a cruise line, so she knows both sides of the coin. Over 13 years at Royal Caribbean International, she had 11 jobs, working in almost every department, getting to know a bit of everything and many people. This makes her an ideal bridge.
'I have known Barbara for 20 years and have watched her progress from shipboard employment to shoreside leadership to award-winning entrepreneurship. With Ship2Shore Employ, she is recognizing the incredible skills and value of former crew and providing the cruise industry with much needed talent. A win-win for all,' said Adam Goldstein, former president & CEO of Royal Caribbean International.
Cobas's first LinkedIn post three weeks ago chalked up more than 9,000 impressions from former crew all over the world. She's also hearing from seafarers who know people on land who could benefit from Ship2Shore Employ. And she's been approached by talent with a wide range of experience, including former dining room waiters, youth activities hosts and security officers — even retired captains who still want to contribute professionally.
All virtual jobs
The jobs Ship2Shore is arranging are all virtual. For example, Cobas has a 'phenomenal candidate in Chile' who was a shore excursion manager for 15 years. She became a mom and is now at home with her husband, who was a marketing revenue manager on the ships. They work for a small tourism company but really miss the cruise industry. Cobas is looking to place the woman in a consumer outreach (direct sales) role at Royal Caribbean.
The platform the former crew member would use in the job is the same one she mastered on the ship so her skills are immediately transferable. And if a customer has questions about an itinerary, chances are this woman knows the ports inside-out and can share information from her first-hand experience.
Average 10 years at sea
The people coming into the Ship2Shore pipeline have years of service — on average, a decade at sea.
Ale Avila from Colombia, who spent 10 years as a Royal Caribbean Adventure Ocean manager, said 'It was really difficult trying to translate these skills into land jobs. People didn't understand the work and what an Adventure Ocean manager does on a day to day basis ...'
'Something I miss the most is working for the cruise industry,' said Vero (Veronica) Marroquin of Romania, with 14 years at sea in hotel administration and as a casino host. '(With Ship2shore) it is now a reality that I can work remotely from home, so I can continue to provide for my family, and continue increasing my experience and career in the cruise industry, and continue growing as a person and being here for my family.'
Paty Cervantes of Mexico chalked up 15 years as manager, entertainment staff. She said: 'Ship2shore means I can go back and work in an industry that I know and love, am committed to and understand, without leaving home.'
Types of remote jobs available
According to Cobas, cruise lines are looking to fill virtual jobs in areas such as direct sales, special projects (new ship launches, for example), shore excursions (customizing private tours), concierge and guest services.
In future, she predicts many roles like this; Disney Cruise Line's app already lets passengers chat live with a guest services officer.
Cobas is working to secure formal arrangements with a wide range of cruise lines and recently the president of a company who heard what she was doing reached out to her. Under the Ship2Shore Employ model, crew members don't pay for placements; the cruise lines will compensate Cobas.
'I see us as a professional development company. When crew are getting off a ship, they're coming to us and we're saying these are the types of jobs that could be a fit for you. And we're helping them hone their skills,' she said.
Webinars cover topics like LinkedIn and interview skills. 'If you've been at sea for 15 years, you've missed the era of LinkedIn. We're providing tools to help transition from crew life to land life.'
The next webinar, 'Mastering your interview,' is set for 9 a.m. EST March 8. Further webinars will take place every Wednesday at 9, exclusively for crew.
Candidates may apply on the Ship2Shore Employ website. So far, traffic is coming via LinkedIn and word of mouth. ''The power of the crew network helping each other is phenomenal,' Cobas noted. 'In future, cruise lines will say this is a really valuable crew member who had to go home for XYZ reason and we don't want to lose them ...
'There's no one else doing this. Every cruise executive I've talked to has said why haven't we done that before?'
More about Cobas
Cobas has travel and cruising in her blood. Her father was a travel agent for 30 years and her mother was a flight attendant for 45 years. She was 4 or 5 when she took her first cruise and grew up in a travel agency stamping brochures.
Her brother had an internship with Royal Caribbean and the Miami office encouraged her — a new college graduate — to apply for a job. She first worked as cruise staff on Sovereign of the Seas, continuing as social hostess and activities manager, and met her husband at sea; he was a youth staff member. Shoreside roles included call center trainer, casting specialist, activities consultant; manager, hotel operations; manager, revenue partners and director, special events & trade strategy, trade marketing.
Cobas thinks thousands of former crew have the potential to get new virtual cruise line jobs.
'People are first in all of this,' she said. This is about helping crew connect to an industry they love, and helping cruise lines to get talent that's excellent.
'... This is really global change for so many former crew and for their families. It's making sure their experience is still utilized. Their ability to reconnect is exciting for the crew member but it's also exciting for the cruise line that, in many cases, trained them.
'It is changing lives.'
At Seatrade Cruise Global
Ship2Shore Employ will be attending Seatrade Cruise Global later this month.
'Seatrade is a really massive audience for us,' Cobas said. 'That's our big launch, to get in front of the right people and say what we're doing. Not only the cruise lines but everybody who's coming really understands the value of the industry.'