Job redesign, bonuses and Asean attachments part of plan to attract S'poreans to maritime sector

The initiative is part of a plan to create at least 1,000 good jobs for locals in the sector by 2025. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Trials are ongoing to redesign jobs in the maritime sector so that more Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) can take them on, as the current pool of qualified local talent with extensive seafaring experience is small.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat said on Friday (April 8) that the initiative was part of a plan to create at least 1,000 good jobs for locals by 2025, giving the example of technical superintendents, who usually oversee the safe and efficient operation of ships.

The role traditionally requires years of experience on the seas but restructuring it and using technology to accelerate training could allow more locals to be employed in such a capacity, he said.

Companies that believe they have roles that can be similarly redesigned can approach the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the Singapore Maritime Foundation.

Speaking at the Maritime Manpower Forum during Singapore Maritime Week, Mr Chee said Singapore wants to be a regional hub for maritime training and skills upgrading, emphasising the importance of the country's ports remaining open to ideas and workers from abroad.

The plan, which is still being hammered out, will likely involve attracting seafarers from the region to train in courses offered by the unions and higher educational institutes so that they can further their careers in Singapore.

Those who do not stay will form an alumni network with people they have known here, Mr Chee said. Local workers will also be sent overseas for development.

He said there will also be a greater focus on South-east Asia in the development of local workers, with MPA increasing its co-funding support by 20 per cent for employees who are sent to Asean countries, compared with other locations.

"In a global business like maritime, our local talents must have international exposure in order to take on senior leadership roles," Mr Chee said

"We are keen to groom a pipeline of local talents who have a good understanding of South-east Asia and can develop strong professional networks with their foreign partners."

The industry has been seeking to increase its attractiveness to workers, with not many locals, especially those who are young, knowing much about the sector despite it being a vital one to Singapore's economy.

The authorities have sought to make pay more competitive, while giving sign-on bonuses and incentive payments to support seafarers' income when they are not sailing.

Seafarers will receive up to $50,000 when they attain key career milestones under the Sail Milestone Achievement Programme.

Next month, the first batch of maritime youth ambassadors in universities and polytechnics will be appointed. Mr Chee called them advocates who will help spread the message of the sector's offerings to their peers.

On the new targets of the Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map, which have been revised to account for factors like the risk of headwinds to the global economy, Mr Chee said they represented a more realistic outlook.

The plan launched in 2018 had initially wanted to grow the sector by $4.5 billion and create more than 5,000 jobs over a decade from 2016 to 2025. On Monday, it was announced that it will now be $2 billion and at least 1,000 jobs between 2020 and 2025.

"(The earlier targets) were proposed in a different operating environment. We did not have the challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic in 2018, as well as more recent disruptions to the world economy and global supply chains such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict and rising interest rates," Mr Chee said.

"We updated our targets over a six-year period after carefully reviewing the assumptions and likely scenarios for the next few years, such as the risk that the world economy could face headwinds in our new window period."

These updated targets, he said, also "recognise our growth momentum and the potential for new investments in areas such as digitalisation and decarbonisation, to open up more opportunities for our companies and our workers".

"It is not a given that we will achieve these targets because we are now operating in a more challenging global environment than before. However, we have confidence in our strengths and capabilities, which can be seen from the sector’s resilience during the pandemic," he said.

Mr Chee added that the jobs created will be for locals, possibly in growth areas such as digitalisation and decarbonisation. Beyond the 1,000 jobs  for locals, companies might require some of their other newly created jobs to be filled by non-Singaporeans, especially in areas where specialised skills are needed or where there are not enough Singaporeans or PRs for hire.

"It is very important for Singapore to remain open and connected to the world, and to welcome international talent to complement our local workforce. It is not possible for an inward-looking society to be a maritime hub. There is no such thing as an inward-looking hub," he said.

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