Why Manning Agencies Use Backer System & How to Overcome It

by | Last updated Nov 24, 2023 | Career Guide, Job Search | 0 comments

To get on board today, you need a backer. The backer system in our shipping agency is so entrenched that cadets without someone backing them up will have difficulty getting on board.

One of the most challenging aspects of the career for fresh graduates or those aspiring to work at sea is getting into a company to start their journey. It seems nearly impossible to be hired nowadays if you don’t have any connections on the inside.

Think about it, you’ve worked hard for three years in school, but there’s something even more difficult and frustrating waiting for you – applying without a backer.

Why do you need a backer to get in? It seems so unfair, right? Especially if you believe you’re deserving both morally, physically, and intellectually. But let’s find out if the Backer System makes sense or if it’s just implemented to favor certain individuals.

What is a Backer System?

A backer system is when someone uses his influence and connection to favor a particular applicant despite his or her qualifications. This is a very common practice in the hiring section of manning agencies where officers or long-time employees use their status to bring someone in.

In order for the backer system to take effect, the backer must have either of these two advantages:

  • He must be a high-ranking member of the agency. Captains, Chief Engineers, and Officers fit this rule especially if the company urgently needs them. They can use these hiring urgencies to bring someone in.
  • He must worked in the company for a very long period of time. Some seafarers worked in the same company for ten, 15, 20 years, or even more! This accumulated service loyalty earns them the power to bring someone in.

In our country, the backer system is also called “Palakasan System” or “Padrino System”.

The Backer System has its pros and cons depending on your perspective and position on the matter. There are two main parties directly involved: the applicant and the shipping or manning agency.

Let’s delve into the positive and negative effects of this system, along with the reasons why having a backer is necessary to get on board.

Why We Have the Backer System

1. Competition

Every year, thousands of students graduate from the maritime industry here in the Philippines. This creates an imbalance between supply and demand.

More people are entering the maritime workforce, but the industry’s growth is slower in comparison. As a result, there is a stringent screening system for job applications, often favoring those with connections on the inside.

2. Credibility

We can observe that the Backer System directly affects newcomers or those with no prior experience in seafaring.

This is because they are not known to manning agencies and have no record of sea service experience. In other words, you are a stranger to them, and presenting diplomas, transcripts of records, good moral certificates, or any other documents may not be sufficient.

Some seafarers who made it without the support of a backer to secure a job may resort to disruptive actions or even violence while on board. Believing they owe nothing to a backer who did not assist them, they might think that they can do anything on board.

Furthermore, consider this scenario: If you owned a shipping company, who would you prefer to hire? Someone recommended or vouched for by your ship’s Captain, or someone applying directly whose background you are unfamiliar with?

3. Accountability

Manning agencies often prefer those who are recommended by their own crew because their own crew will be accountable or responsible for the actions of the recruits they endorse.

If a cadet misbehaves, the Backer will immediately find that out and will do everything to correct their behavior, as the reputation of their backed recruits reflects on their own…

4. Reputation

This is one of the things mariners take care of when they arrive on board. If you know that Captain, Chief Mate, Tirso, Kwarto, Pedro, or whoever endorsed you, will you still cause trouble on the ship, especially if their records are good?

Of course not, you will behave because their reputation is at stake. The manning agency is also confident that you will not cause any trouble because of this.

5. Loyalty

If you have already brought in many friends or relatives to your company, would you dare to switch? Of course not.

You owe a lot to the office, so the only way to repay them is by working well and showing loyalty, without looking at other companies, no matter how good and lucrative their offer is.

Cadets in white uniforms and parade rest formation.
Image: Indiamart.com

Negative Effects of Backer System

1. Favorism

Yes, you’re right, that word isn’t in the dictionary. But I just want to use it because it fits perfectly. It comes from the word “favor.” Favoring those who have connections even though you know you’re more qualified.

Isn’t it so unfair? This is the biggest negative effect of the Backer System here in the Philippines.

2. Hostage

One of the methods used by manning agencies to retain their crew in the company is the Backer System.

If they have an officer whom they don’t want to let go of due to manpower shortage, his unique skillset, or high standards of safety, they might use the incoming cadet as a “hostage.”

If the Officer wants to transfer, the company can make a deal or promise to line up the cadet as long as the Officer agrees to sign the next contract as well.

3. Dynasty

There are companies where only relatives or family members get hired. What can we do about this? Nothing because they own the company. So, let’s go back to Kalaw (a street in Manila).

4. Lost Potentials

Many applicants have no backers but are skilled and have the potential to become excellent officers. However, without connections, the talents and skills of these deserving cadets often go to waste.

5. Dependency

Because the cadet knows they have a backer, they may not put as much effort into their studies. There’s also a possibility that their ego will inflate causing troubles on board, especially if they know their backer holds a high position in the company.

6. Under the Tables

Some unscrupulous individuals exploit this situation. They know that the cadet is desperate to get on board but doesn’t have a backer.

This is where you hear offers like thirty thousand (or more) for immediate deployment. However, we already know the outcomes of some of these deals.

7. Discouragement

And since Dudong Seaman has been applying for several years without success, he eventually gave up on pursuing a maritime career and joined another job.

This is where his three years of hard work in the academy went to waste. His parents, who spent a significant amount on his education, were also frustrated.

Bakit Nangangailangan ng Backer ang mga Kumpanya Bago ka Nila Mapasampa at Paano Malulusutan Ito - Seaman Memories

How to Overcome the Backer System

It is still possible for cadets to embark on their careers earlier without going through the Backer System. Even if they have zero experience, there is a way for them to get on board.

However, this approach requires sacrifices during the early days of their journeys. It’s understandable and you will do this if you want to get hired without a backer.

1. Scholarships

This is perhaps the best program that schools and shipping agencies offer to aspiring cadets who are still studying. If you can get into their scholarship programs, all you need to do is study hard so you won’t struggle when applying.

2. Passing Exams

If you can’t get into scholarship programs, don’t lose hope. Keep studying because there will be shipping agencies that suddenly offer exams to find deserving cadets.

If your grades meet their criteria, you can join their evaluation, and if you pass, it’s like winning the lottery because you’ll be accepted immediately!

3. Impressions

If you’ve done everything and still haven’t secured scholarships or passed their exams, prepare yourself to roam around Manila to find a company. And if you get a chance to apply, you need to make an impression on the crewing manager.

You must excel in the exams, especially in the interview, where your knowledge and confidence will be tested. If you impress them, you have a better chance of getting in because you’ll be the first one on their mind when they need a cadet. Believe in yourself!

4. The Longer Route

But if you think you can’t handle the earlier tips, don’t be afraid; you still have one last card to play. After graduating from school, look for domestic shipping agencies right away and work there for a year.

Don’t waste your time while you’re young. Even if it’s tough in the interisland, you need to overcome it. And, of course, you need to study hard. Ask for reviewers from your acquaintances, so when the time comes, you can either go to a review center or head directly to MARINA to schedule your licensure exam.

If you don’t pass, rinse and repeat. But if you do pass, bravo! Perform your interisland duty once or twice, then apply to international shipping agencies. You have a good chance of getting in.

Words of Advice

Always remember that shipping agencies, especially their principals, are constantly looking for deserving cadets, and that’s why they visit maritime schools.

If you plan to pursue a career in seafaring, study hard and don’t rely on fate or other people for your success, or else Kalaw Street will get even more crowded.

May the winds be in your favor.



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