SYT chats to Don McKee, founder of New Zealand-based crew agency, YOA, to find out about their role in the industry, the importance of proper crew management and how life on boats inspires their work.
How did you get started with YOA and what were your motivations for the foundation of the company?
I left my last yacht to pursue a shore based career in 2014, and founded YOA with friend and former colleague Tom Aveling in 2016. The intention with YOA was, and remains, simple: improve the recruiting process from both sides of the passerelle. Having been both crew and eventually employers for our respective yachts, we felt that there was a lot of scope for improvement with the way recruiting in the industry operated (and to some extent still operates). We decided to take a different approach based on the experiences we encountered while working with agents over the years. Can you describe YOA and explain what the company offers to the industry?
To that end, we encourage crew to represent themselves as their own agents and showcase their unique personalities, talents and skills directly with potential employers. Like it or not, even the best resume doesn’t convey the complexity of who a person is, which is why we incorporate multiple elements in crew profiles including mutual connections, allowing employers to receive references from people they know and trust, the ability to upload video content, and multiple profile images to help present a more well rounded view of the crew member in question.Employers have benefitted from the platform in many ways. Your Own Agency is wherever you are, so captains and HOD’s can post jobs, headhunt and work whenever their schedule allows. We provide 24/7 access and support, which means that you have peace of mind whether you are making use of our access options or traditional recruiting services.
I think the most important thing we offer is the fact that we have been there ourselves and know what it’s like on both sides of the fence. There are more crew agencies than ever today and the competition is fierce, but I think what sets us apart is the fact that we value our relationships with crew and clients over everything. We do our due diligence with respect to understanding what is important to both parties. I don’t believe there is any use in sending a client 50 resumes and hoping that they pick one. We are in the business of finding ‘unicorns’. Based on the trust we develop with our clients, they know that if we send a few candidates, they are the best possible fit for their program.
How do you and your team, many of you ex yacht crew, apply your experiences onboard to your daily management of the crew?
I think you can’t really understand what matters to employers and crew unless you have been in their position. We are fortunate in that we’ve been there and have spoken to thousands of HOD’s and crew over the years which has given us even more insight into every department. This is hugely valuable from an operational perspective, but knowing what it’s like to work your way through the ranks and the challenges that come with that helps us understand where our crew and clients are coming from.
We know that we hire family when we hire crew, so getting it right is very important to us.
Many people have suggested that crew management is one of the biggest challenges for owners, how do YOA overcome this?
Crew management and retention is a very multifaceted issue and isn’t something we as YOA can solve alone. That said, as innovators in this space, we are developing a number of operational tools to help with many of the more technical aspects of this problem.
I think that for any organisation to work, there has to be ‘buy-in’ from the individuals involved. Owners want to use their yachts and expect a high standard of service. Crew want a work-life balance, which is, of course, also warranted. Expectations and reality often differ, but I think open communication between all players, be they owners rep’s, management companies, crew agencies and HOD’s is the key. I do realise that this is of course easier said than done, but that is the challenge and we love a good one.
I certainly don’t have a PhD in human behaviour, but I think we all ultimately want the same thing. We want to be valued and given the opportunity to grow. Captains and HOD’s that foster an environment where crew are encouraged and empowered have very high crew retention rates by default.
Yachting, yachts and the industry in general is constantly evolving and I think that on a whole, things are always getting better. What do you see in the future for yacht crewing, and particularly for YOA?
I’m very optimistic about the future. We’re seeing big strides being taken with respect to the way yachts are being built, the equipment on board and the skills required to operate all of it. We’re looking forward to finding these ‘unicorns’ for our clients. With that comes the need to grow as a business, we’re only as good as our team and we look forward to adding to it and being able to offer more value. Exciting times ahead!