As maritime undergoes a transformation towards a greener future powered by digitalisation, there is a pressing need to address one of its biggest challenges: a skills gap.
A report by the London-based Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology, titled “Challenges in the Marine Industry: 2023 and beyond”, found that the industry faces a lack of experienced engineers, especially ones with hands-on, practical experience to support their technical education. This is exacerbated by a “lack of interest from young people to enter the engineering and technical fields”.
This key topic, among many others, will be addressed in the upcoming Maritime Manpower Forum, during the upcoming Singapore Maritime Week.
A panel session on April 28 will take a look at the growing manpower needs in an age of digitalisation. Moderated by Singapore Maritime Foundation board member Nick Potter, the panel will also feature Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) President Caroline Yang and Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union General Secretary Mary Liew. Experts from the Maritime Just Transition Taskforce, DNV and Ernst & Young are also invited to discuss the key considerations to achieve workforce readiness in sustainable shipping and what companies can do to better support this transition towards a sustainable career path. The forum will also feature a series of conversations between youth and industry leaders.
They will be expected to look at the challenges and opportunities that the maritime industry faces in new areas such as digitalisation and decarbonisation, along with the need to train talent in the technologies of these fields.
Roping in fresh talent
Attracting young talent into the industry is one major challenge that companies continue to face, said Mr Esben Poulsson, Chairman of Singapore-based shipowner Enesel and former Chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping. In fact, it remains low on the list for young job-seekers.
“Most young people have an image of shipping as getting your hands dirty. But shipping is multifaceted. Insurance, law, finance, accounting, chartering, operations – there are so many aspects to it,” he added.
Ultimately, it boils down to a matter of perception. “It's not as sexy as (tech). There's the connotation of (the industry) being traditional and conservative,” observed Mr Joshua Lee, Regional Human Resources Director at Hapag-Lloyd Asia.
But this could change as the sector goes digital. With companies looking to digitalise their operations and move their fleet towards cleaner fuels, there is an urgent need for the industry to acquire or train talent with the requisite skills such as artificial intelligence, big data and cybersecurity. And with a higher likelihood that young talent is equipped with these skills, it is crucial that they are lured to the maritime industry.
Honing cyber skills
But digitalisation, which rapidly took off in many industries during the COVID-19 pandemic, is one area where maritime has lagged behind for many years, noted Ms Yang. For example, bills of lading on ships are still issued in hardcopy, while most sectors have already moved on to e-documents.
“There’s so much we can do in terms of digitalisation in the shipping industry,” she said, adding that maritime is currently at an inflection point when it comes to going digital.
Cybersecurity, in particular, is one key area of interest. For one, digitalisation is a double-edged sword – with more data being shared and stored digitally, this has ironically presented new cybersecurity challenges. And with crews often isolated far out at sea, a cyber-attack on ships can potentially be catastrophic. To thwart such threats, the right defence infrastructure needs to be built.
One suggestion that Ms Yang raised was the establishment of cyber assurance centres. Much like regional centres to share intel to counter piracy attacks, a similar facility can be built to stave off the digital threat.
This is where more fresh faces with cyber skills can come in to help transform the industry. “It is quite exciting for young talent to come in,” she said. “We need to work on creating awareness and letting them know there are many opportunities available.”
To fulfil this goal, it is imperative for the industry to come together to come up with solutions.
“I think one very important by-product of COVID-19 was the level of cooperation amongst different stakeholders,” said Mr Poulsson. “My great hope, as I've said time and again, is that we continue to foster new levels of cooperation and collaboration, and remind ourselves that if we can do it, then let's do it permanently.”
The Singapore Maritime Week, an annual gathering of the international maritime community to advance key industry issues and exchange ideas to bring the sector forward, will be held from 24 to 28 April 2023.
Register your participation at https://registration.mvents.asia/SMW2023/