The human element is often surprisingly absent from industry debate. The shiny and the new tend to hog the headlines, such as the lure (or is it the siren call?) of autonomous shipping. But our reliance on the people that power the industry receives far less attention.
Happily, the Big Skills Debate held at Maritime Greenwich late last year, went some way towards redressing the balance.
The debate covered a lot of ground, including the funding and delivery of maritime training, recruitment and retention, business succession planning, and the notion of a maritime ‘skills’ gap. Although much of the conversation focused on the UK maritime cluster, many of these challenges also apply elsewhere in this most international of industries.
When it comes to the technological forces shaping the industry, the panel pointed out that the deployment of automation, IT and digitalisation in the shipping supply chain actually increases the industry’s skills requirements. Electrical, electronic and IT skills are more in demand than ever before; so much so that for some employers, the challenge is the retention of skilled and experienced personnel, which can be a disincentive for companies that want to develop their own talent. This includes the threat of a brain drain from shipping to other industrial sectors.
One of the abiding lessons was the urgent need to take the debate outside of the room and outside of the sector. Everyone in the industry, whatever their role, can play a part as a cheerleader for what a career in shipping can offer, the benefits of the skills that can be acquired in the shipping industry, and why what we do as an industry really matters – both for those serving at sea and those working on shore.
For example, why should a highly-skilled electrical engineer choose the maritime sector over the nuclear industry? Why should a school leaver consider an apprenticeship with a ports operator rather than a car manufacturer? Why specialise in shipping law? Why train as a ship broker? How do we encourage young people to consider a career at sea or in a maritime organisation?
As the panel pointed out, recruiting young people requires us to recognise the factors that motivate them and being able to align those factors with their career options; environmental sustainability being a great example. Just as the renewable energy sector is bringing new investment and employment opportunities, so too can every company help to attract young people by embracing the sustainability agenda.
This Big Skills Debate event was organised by National Maritime and delivered in partnership with Jobs in Maritime, the Greenwich Maritime Centre (GMC), Lloyds Maritime Academy and the National Maritime Training Centre.
By Simon Phillips, Director