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Riding high – maritime business strives to solve shipping skills shortage

Casper Group was recently named the fastest growing large business at the Ward Hadaway North East Fastest 50 awards.

In partnership with The Journal, the event recognises the fastest growing, most innovative businesses across the region. The River Tees-based maritime organisation, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, provides end-to-end shipping solutions around the world. Here, we caught up with Nikki Sayer, a director at Casper Group, to find out why future proofing the industry is a key priority for the firm.

“It’s the people at Casper who have truly enabled its growth,” explains Nikki Sayer who leads the customs division within Casper Shipping, a key arm of Casper Group. “The senior leadership team covers all four of the companies that make up Casper Group – Casper Shipping, where I sit, Casper Defence, Casper Chartering and Casper Logistics – have propelled Casper into the 21st century and demonstrated just how important the maritime industry is to the UK’s economic prosperity.”

Brexit saw transformative changes within Casper including the creation of software automation to create custom declarations. “We modernised the industry, creating unique software that could process declarations in an hour, 365 days a year,” explains Nikki. “To do this, we trained our people from scratch, upskilling them so that we can deliver shipping solutions that match the needs of modern global businesses.”

And it’s clear Casper doesn’t do things by half. The maritime company has become the UK’s first designated customs site operator, setting up the primary zone for Teesside Freeport. “We worked with HMRC to create a blueprint for the UK’s freeports, how they should function, the way they should operate and how other businesses can benefit from a freeport. We did what no other shipping business did and, as a result, positioned ourselves as the experts in customs and associated logistics in a post Brexit trading environment.”

With a £30 million turnover and operations spanning 11 sites nationwide, Casper Group is certainly leading the way in the maritime industry. “We’ve continued to adjust to changing market conditions, invest in our people and our infrastructure and innovate to succeed,” said Nikki. “The core reason for our continued success is our emphasis on the people within the business, those who keep the wheels turning from the senior leadership team to those at the coalface. Our people are hugely committed to Casper and its evolution because we invest in them throughout their career with us, focusing on equipping them with the skills required to succeed in today’s shipping industry.”

Nikki continues: “The shipping industry doesn’t get half the attention it deserves for playing a vital part in the UK’s success. This might explain why we’re experiencing a huge skills shortage in shipping, especially as technology continues to innovate processes at a rapid pace. To ensure the future of the industry we need a trained pool of people entering the sector who have a deep understanding of shipping and how it operates.”

As part of Casper’s commitment to people development and creating the next generation of maritime professionals, Nikki founded the North East School of Shipping (NESS) in 2019. This is led by the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers which has partnered with Stockton Riverside College to introduce a dedicated shipping school to the region. NESS is also the only shipping school in the UK to offer commercial, shore-based qualifications.

Nikki explains: “The shipping industry is a fantastic sector to work in and I want to raise its profile to as many people as possible. Through NESS, the aim is to demystify the industry so that people see it as a career of choice. NESS aims to inspire people to pursue maritime careers whilst equipping them with the work ready skills they need to enter the sector. I grew up in Saltburn and want to tell as many young people as possible that you can stay in your local town and still create a highly successful career in an interesting and innovative field. The opportunities to go far are endless – I cannot be more passionate about driving that message home.”

The NESS’s work spans school engagement, apprenticeships and opportunities to develop higher level skills for employees, encouraging employers to recognise and cultivate talent in the industry.

Steven Roper, a partner in the commercial team at Ward Hadaway who leads the firm’s transport and logistics group, said: “Casper Group is doing a phenomenal job in putting the region firmly on the map in the global shipping sector. Through innovation and investment Casper has been able to expand its services, expertise and cement its role as one of the UK’s leading shipping businesses. Its work in creating the next generation of maritime professionals is admirable as Casper understands why investing in people, and equipping them with the skills they need, is vital to future proofing not just the business but the wider industry. As an Investors in People Gold Award winner, Ward Hadaway recognises why people must be at the centre of any business to achieve real growth. Well done to Casper Group on this year’s Fastest 50 award win, it’s a huge achievement.”

With an average turnover growth rate of 82.5%, Casper is flying high, positioning itself as the North Star of the shipping industry across education, technology innovation and people investment.

Nikki adds: “The sector is facing a huge challenge in that it has an ageing workforce so we must, as a priority, widen our talent pool by equipping young people with the right skills. I will continue to beat my shipping drum, visiting schools and colleges across the region, to talk about maritime careers and why they’re just as accessible, lucrative and exciting as other professions. It’s been an invisible industry for too long, but we’re determined to change that and ensure everyone recognises that a career in shipping is highly rewarding and fulfilling.”

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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