The workforce for the maritime industry needs new skills to be more adaptable in order to stay competitive and relevant.
In line with this, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) recently announced it will enhance the skills of the maritime workforce, as part of the Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map, which builds on MPA’s strategic long-term plans to develop Singapore’s next-generation port and strengthen our international maritime centre.
Mr Venkatraman Sheshashayee, Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director, Miclyn Express Offshore, notes that the future maritime industry would be one where automation of vessels and processes would be common.
He said, “Starting with the International Maritime Organisation, flag states and classification societies, extending to shipyards, marine workshops and ship designers and subsuming stevedores, chandlers and agents, every participant in this domain will need to reconfigure themselves to remain relevant and required.
"Technology companies and service providers, start-ups and consultants have developed strategies and algorithms that can be quickly implemented. Employers need to understand the possible futures and begin planning for these alternative scenarios."
Making an observation about how industry players can plan for the future, he added: “Maritime and offshore companies need to spend more time engaging with educational institutions and spreading awareness of the diverse, interesting and rewarding careers that this domain has to offer. Continued on-the-job learning, if made an integral part of a company’s culture, will ensure that the organisation will always have visibility and availability of fit-for-purpose talent.”
Mr Venkatraman spelt out four threats – a shortage of experienced and capable leaders, limited interaction between management and employees, reduced engagement between companies and clients, and a disconnect between the education system and the working world's requirements.
Mr Danny Lien, President of Singapore Association of Shipsuppliers and Services (SASS), echoed the dearth of leadership.
He said: “The maritime industry is sorely in lack of C-suite calibre personnel – talents with the expertise and experience to take their companies through this technology transformation. Due to this reluctance towards technology transformation, many companies in the maritime ecosystem remain archaic and outdated in the way they conduct their businesses.”
Mr Edwin Tiah, Managing Director of Gemini Personnel, said: “Understanding technology alone is not enough, embracing and applying new skills are key factors in being successful in the industry. The importance of large data in the near future will transform the port and logistics industries.”
Mr Lien felt that the industry was not nimble enough to roll with the tide of change.
He said: “The maritime industry will need to have more senior decision makers who are comfortable with taking the bold step of embracing technology and disrupting the traditional ways of doing business...With good planning and effective execution, we can quicken the pace of transformation and elevate this core economic pillar to a modern and “sexy” industry that is highly appealing to the workforce of tomorrow.”
Mr Michael Montoya, Chief Cybersecurity Officer - Enterprise Cybersecurity Group, Singapore, Microsoft, sees increased automation and computerisation as necessary to improve container management, logistics and all other aspects of shipping.
But he warned: “As the digital footprint expands, we will also see the threat landscape become more complex with the maritime industry taking more attention from threat actors... Cybercriminals will also seize opportunities to monetise attacks as the value of maritime assets and cargo may be more vulnerable.”
Mr Lien said there needed to be a pool of individuals who are highly-skilled and well-trained in digital transformation.
Mr Kenneth Lim, Chief Technology Officer/Director (Research & Technology & Industry Development), MPA, said: “We can expect existing jobs to be redesigned and new jobs to be created. The automation of the yard cranes for example, would mean that our crane operators working at the port no longer need to work alone but can now work more efficiently as a team in the control centres.”
"Our seafaring colleagues can now also harness the Internet of Things, data analytics and conduct pre-emptive maintenance and navigation in an optimal and safe manner with the use of machine learning. Blockchain and robotics are also being explored to improve document flow and reduce duplication of data entries."
Mr Robin Robbins, Managing Director of CPP Asia Pacific, said more upgrading courses and access to quality training centres were needed.
He said: “The ever-increasing gap between knowledge and training with on board technology must be bridged quickly at various levels (basic, competency, and refresher). Equipment manufacturers also have a key role to play here as presently operator training is not a priority.
Mr Venkatraman said that ‘learning organisations’ need to be formed, where employees can upskill and reskill themselves, and then practise the new skills.
Mr Lim said the MPA has enhanced the Maritime Cluster Fund for Manpower Development to include a wider scope of topics for training programmes and longer durations for overseas training attachments. He added that the MPA's maritime programmes will also continue to be developed to meet the needs of the industry.
He said: “In line with the recently launched Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map, we will need to work closely with the industry to equip our maritime partners with the relevant digital competencies.”
Mr Lien said the SASS Academy has launched three industry-specific entry level course with support from e2i to attract talents looking opportunities in the marine supplies sector.
He added that the Association is also discussing with several institutions of higher learning to recognise the courses for entry into advanced courses.
Mr Lien said the Association is working with companies in the maritime ecosystem to offer internships and scholarships to familiarise more people with the industry, as well as get more millennials to join the industry.
Mr Tiah said more flexibility in employment contracts and working conditions will help to ensure a sustainable future workforce as more employees today are reluctant to accept permanent, long-term contracts with fixed office hours.
Mr Robbins added that attracting more female employees would give rise to a larger and more diversified labour pool.
He said: “Companies can also engage in overseas recruiting efforts. Gender and cultural diversity can also pay in other ways such as increased creativity and a different perspective.”
Meet these industry leaders at the 15th Asia Pacific Maritime (APM) happening at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore from March 14 to 16. Mr Lim, Mr Montoya and Mr Venkatraman will be speaking at the APM Conference, while CPP Asia Pacific, Gemini Personnel and SASS will be represented at the first-ever Career and Skills Pavilion.
APM 2018 will introduce the APM Leaders' Forum on March 14, in conjunction with its 15th edition. To find out more, visit apmaritime.com.