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A Career in Command: Inspiring Insights From An Industry Pioneer

Mr Lim Tau Kok is living proof that fortune favours the bold. The first Singaporean to become a Chief Engineer at age 26, he went on to hold distinguished positions at Neptune Orient Lines (NOL), worked as a Technical Superintendent in Japanese shipyards, managed the fleet at Pacific Carriers Ltd (PCL), became Executive Director at PCL, and still advises Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI) to this day. Yet even after all of these achievements, he says his greatest has been grooming the next generation of maritime industry leaders. Now retired, he offered to share some words of wisdom for those considering a future on the high seas.

Invest in core skills

According to Mr Lim, a maritime career is a career for life.

The job of a Marine Engineer is very versatile. As the Certificate of Competency is internationally recognised, you can work anywhere in the world. Because of the world shortage of  seafarers, you can say that you are recession proof.

Develop your people skills

Seafaring offers a unique experience – you generally sail for 4-6 months on each contract on  one ship with 20-25 others from all around the world and you then move on to a fresh contract on another ship with new people and new environment.

It’s very similar to changing companies very 4-6 months. You learn to work with a different group of people, learn from them, practise certain skills on them. Through this frequent constant changes in work environment, you learn how to work with people of different nationalities and manage them. Manage people, interact and socialise with them – all people skills. You can never have this opportunity when you work ashore.

Build momentum early

Just like any other profession, the initial few years of seafaring at the junior level may be tough. You need to persevere and build yourself up. Mr Lim did this the hard way by clocking his sea time up as fast as possible.

A cadet at that time needs to clear 18 months sea time. Some people go [to sea] for 6 months at a time while I did mine all in one contract . It’s crazy but I just wanted to finish it fast. That’s how I became the youngest chief engineer at 26. Work hard for 10 years and benefit for the next 30-40 years.

Nurture the 3 keys to success

Does success come down to education or experience? Having acquired a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering from the University of Michigan alongside countless years at sea, Mr Lim says both, plus one more.

Qualifications come with studying, experience comes with age, but attitude is something you need to cultivate to be successful. Choosing a career is important, but having the right attitude and approach is equally important.

An industry for the future

With automation, digitisation and unmanned ships floating on the horizon, one might assume that the end of the maritime industry is nigh. However, Mr Lim assures that Singapore’s maritime industry still has many voyages left in it.

It [ships] may be unmanned on board, but people still need to control it from somewhere. I also don’t think anything will ever replace sea transportation. Ships can carry far more cargo and are much more flexible and cheaper too.

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