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Closing the talent gap

Maritime companies need to invest in its people over the long term to develop the necessary skillsets.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 05:50

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Mr Brochet: "We are competing with many other industries in the fight for talent. It is therefore important to generate public interest for our industry and highlight the career opportunities the industry offers."

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Mr Heaselden: "Shipping is continually evolving and ships are becoming ever more complex. This complexity requires modern day seafarers to have a greater technical ability than their predecessors."

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Mr Stoney: "We plan today for what we expect in the future. Right now, we are focused on a detailed training programme to ensure we have the right people, with the right competencies, at the right time, in order to operate a new class of LNG vessels that is being built."

AS new technologies continue to transform the maritime sector in Singapore, many of the new jobs created by the industry in the coming years will be more knowledge intensive, even as existing roles transform into higher skilled ones.

Around 13,000 new jobs could be created in the air and sea transport sectors by 2025 as Singapore builds smarter ports, Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo had revealed in Parliament in March. In particular, she noted that more data scientists and operations research analysts would be needed to optimise shipping routes, port operations and vessel traffic management at the port.

In the shipping industry, technical advancements and the drive for efficiency have led to demand for workers with different skillsets from their predecessors. For instance, engine rooms now operate unmanned at night, paper charts are being replaced by electronic versions while bridge equipment is being combined into one display.

David Heaselden, chief executive, Singapore branch and regional operations director, Shipowners P&I Club, says: "Shipping is continually evolving and the ships are becoming ever more complex in the drive to increase efficiencies both in terms of their physical operations and operating costs. This complexity requires modern day seafarers to have a greater technical ability than their predecessors who were, in my opinion, required to be of a more practical nature."

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Against this backdrop, industry players must invest in closing the talent gap or risk losing out to competitors, especially as there is already a shortfall of suitably qualified and experienced seafarers globally. However, as it takes years to acquire the deep technical skills required by the industry, companies must be committed to developing talent over the long term.

Matthew Stoney, director, Singapore at BP Shipping, says that it takes over 10 years from the start of an officer cadet programme through to the time when someone may hold a Class 1 Certificate of Competency. "Closing this gap is a long wave length activity and will require long-term commitment and investment from all industry players and governments," he says.

BP Shipping adopts a "70:20:10" approach when it comes to training, whereby 70 per cent of development is achieved via on-the-job learning, 20 per cent from developmental relationships and 10 per cent through structured learning solutions and formal development activities.

Mr Stoney says: "We plan today for what we expect in the future. Right now, we are focused on delivering a detailed training programme to ensure we have the right people, with the right competencies, at the right time, in order to operate a new class of LNG vessels that is being built."

Maritime company BW Group also faces challenges filling "skill-specific" roles such as master mariners, technical and marine superintendents - roles that require several years of sea-going experience.

Apart from technical skills, however, Sebastien Brochet, senior vice president (strategy, corporate development and HR) at BW Group, says that the industry will also require people to have "softer" communication and analytical skills.

"Despite significant developments over the last few decades, the maritime industry is still a people business. Hence, communication, collaboration and networking skills are important." he says.

"Also, the ability to make decisions remains essential. Not so long ago, managers often had to make decisions based on limited information. Now, this is the exact opposite. We are flooded with news, announcements and points of view. Strong analytical skills are therefore required to navigate through all this information, develop an independent view and make a decision."

To help the industry develop the talent it requires, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) will enhance the Maritime Cluster Fund for Manpower Development to support a wider range of training to equip Singaporeans with skills in new areas, such as data analytics and new maritime technologies. Around 5,000 Singaporeans are expected to benefit from this every year.

Beyond the need for new skillsets, companies are also having a hard time attracting younger workers to the industry, as the lure of seeing the world by sea is diminished in today's Internet age.

Mr Heaselden says: "Years ago, if a teenager wanted to see the world while earning a good salary he would embark on a career at sea: visiting ports in every country and spending time there so that he could visit places of interest. Today he or she needs only tune into the plethora of documentary channels on TV and then undertake a low-cost flight to his or her preferred destination."

Making the right moves

Despite the challenges, industry players agree that Singapore has made good progress in attracting and developing talent for the maritime sector.

For instance, institutions of higher learning such as Singapore Management University (SMU) and National Technological University (NTU) have developed maritime-specific curriculum where students can learn about shipping and trading. Meanwhile, MPA and the Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF) offer sponsorships and scholarships to help attract and develop talent.

"Institutions across the Singapore government are working in sync to create an attractive maritime industry to draw the best talent. We are competing with many other industries in the fight for talent. It is therefore important to generate public interest for our industry and highlight the career opportunities the industry offers," says Mr Brochet.

On its part, BW offers a scholarship with SMF and SMU to support young talent. The company also runs a two-year management associate programme that recruits fresh local graduates with strong interest in shipping and rotate them across their various business functions to understand the business better. BP, meanwhile, participates in the MPA's Global Internship Award programme.

Says Mr Stoney: "It is through initiatives such as these that awareness of career opportunities within the sector are highlighted. Continued improvements in the marketing and advertising of the sector in general are very encouraging."

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