The industry needs to realise people can get to the top without specific training

Nickie Sheils is GM on RSSC’s Seven Seas Mariner.  She runs everything except the ship’s bridge and engine rooms.

She has a maximum of 750 passengers to look after. They all check out (disembark) between 8 am and 9 am at the end of a cruise, and the next lot of passengers check in from 12 noon. During a cruise these are the most demanding guests you can imagine, with personalization taken for granted, and idiosyncracies sometimes magnified.

Ms Sheils has direct responsibility for 400 of crew (engine staff and sailors report to the Captain, to whom she also reports).

Most ships’ GMs come from the hotel world.  Nickie Sheils, from Norfolk in England, joined the Royal Navy at 17, on a ten-year contract – she always wanted to help people, she explained.

At 27, she wondered what to do. As a stop-gap she took a six-month assignment as the Captain’s secretary on a cruise ship, and now, 20 years later, she has never looked back.

She learned her skills by working in the galley (kitchen), by being a concierge, by watching trainers show room maids how to clean cabins most efficiently. Today she benchmarks with hotels by learning whatever she can, wherever.

Onboard, she does a three-month stint of seven days a week, 7 a.m. through lunch, 5 p.m. until near midnight.  She has two-month breaks between assignments, when she and her husband often tour in their motor home.

Eating her way around the world is her main hobby (she still has Mongolia on her bucket-list.)  Otherwise, she is happy with her world coverage, and, for her, Asia, anywhere in Asia, is always magical.

And what is the industry message from this?

Obviously airlines can only attract flight deck crew who have specific training, and the same applies to the cruise sector looking for captains, and hotels wanting CFOs and financial bosses. But just as every GM says highlighting attitude is tops when hiring line staff, so attitude, commonsense and determination should be among the skills required when hiring at management level.

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