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Preparing future-ready skilled workforce

Maritime talent development is the key focus of government and industry and a lot of investment is going into it.

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"We need to attract the younger generation to be interested to join the maritime industry and build their careers in the different maritime areas," says Capt Francis.

AS Singapore's maritime sector is expected to create over 5,000 good jobs by 2025 and create S$4.5 billion in value add, talent development is a key focus in this direction and a lot of investment is being done in the process.

With the strong drive towards innovation, the industry needs a steady stream of future-ready professionals to maximise performance and profitability. At the same time, companies are taking steps to create meaningful career pathways for Singaporeans.

"A skilled and future-ready maritime workforce is critical in sustaining maritime Singapore's competitiveness. MPA works closely with industry partners, the labour movement and the institutes of higher learning to develop manpower pipelines and talent to support the growth of the industry," says Bernice Yeoh, director, International Maritime Centre Division, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

One of MPA's key enabling tools to support maritime talent development is the Maritime Cluster Fund for Manpower Development (MCF-MD). To encourage skills deepening, the fund provides co-funding support to more than just students. Local maritime employees seeking to upskill or reskill through courses, structured training and experiential learning, are also eligible.

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Ms Yeoh points out that the fund further supports industry players in improving their human resource practices, as well as the industry partners like the Singapore Maritime Foundation in profiling maritime education and careers through Maritime Singapore Connect. The latter is a platform that connects maritime employers, industry associations, the government and schools with students, job-seekers and the general public, with the aim of generating greater awareness and interest in the maritime industry.

"The Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map (ITM) is premised on strengthening the foundations of our hub port and international maritime centre. 'Jobs & Skills' is a key pillar of the ITM, where we aim to develop a future-ready workforce by equipping them with relevant future skills," adds Ms Yeoh.

As the maritime industry transforms and grows, job roles and skill sets will continue to change in the face of increasing automation and digitalisation. Through the MCF-MD, MPA now supports the maritime workforce in acquiring skills beyond the maritime domain to include soft and digital skills. This will help to better position the workforce for future competencies and multi-disciplinary skill sets that will be increasingly in demand and become more important.

Talent development programmes such as the MaritimeONE Scholarship, Tripartite Maritime Scholarship, Global Internship Award and MPA's new Global Talent Programme (GTP) have been put in place to groom the next generation of local talent. The Global Internship Award and the Global Talent Programme both aim to groom local talent with a global perspective.

"To support maritime talent development, it is also important for us to clearly map out career progression pathways, such as those featured in our Skills Framework for Sea Transport. MPA will continue to work closely with stakeholders such as the industry, labour movements and institutes of higher learning to profile the multiple pathways to rewarding and enriching careers that the maritime sector offers," says Ms Yeoh.

To support existing and new manpower development programmes and other initiatives under the Sea Transport ITM, MPA recently topped up the Maritime Cluster Fund by S$100 million.

According to Ms Yeoh, MPA will be rolling out the GTP later this year. This programme aims to groom Singaporeans for leadership roles in the maritime sector by offering them opportunities to hone their skills through structured rotations and overseas exposure. MPA will partner up to 20 maritime companies with a strong focus on human capital development under the GTP over the next few years.

"To help maritime employees achieve their full potential, MPA will also support efforts to provide more structured progression pathways. An example is the new Specialist Diploma in Maritime Superintendency announced by MPA's chief executive Andrew Tan at the Maritime HR Forum on April 23," explains Ms Yeoh.

The Specialist Diploma to be awarded by Singapore Polytechnic provides a structured pathway for experienced seafarers keen on sea-to-shore transition.

Manpower build-up efforts

Meanwhile, the chairman of Singapore Maritime Employers Federation (SMEF), Captain Francis Joseph, says that the current state of the maritime manpower in the country is not enough to sustain long-term growth for a strong maritime Singapore.

"We need to attract the younger generation to be interested to join the maritime industry and build their careers in the different maritime areas. This is to ensure that a pool of qualified and able personnel will be ready to continue the gains that the older generations have built for making Singapore a competitive maritime nation. The government, the labour groups and the private sector must be close partners for this manpower build-up efforts," notes Capt Francis.

It is important that the country continuously reskills and upskills its maritime workforce to keep its competitive advantage as a maritime nation as Singapore is a gateway for ships passing from the Malacca Strait to the South China sea and vice versa, Capt Francis says, adding: "The maritime sector contributes a good part to the country's GDP. As such, changes in regulations, technology and its application, business processes and management functions demand that our maritime sector and the personnel that man every corner of our maritime business are dynamic and able to be at the forefront of change."

SMEF through its different member companies has opened up various positions to Singaporeans wanting to enter the maritime sector and make a career in this area. For opportunities on board ships, companies have opened up the cadetship berth leading to the junior officer's position till they reach senior officers' position up to master and chief engineer ranks.

This allows young Singaporeans to gain the proper experience that can lead to higher shore positions in different field of the maritime sector. For office jobs, various member companies have programmes for training of senior shipboard officers to become technical and marine superintendents as well as office managers.

For creating meaningful career pathways in the maritime sector for Singaporeans, Capt Francis says that companies should be able to present a holistic view of the maritime industry and what exciting and dynamic opportunities there are for young Singaporeans to explore.

This will mean that companies must become a part of the whole maritime system and be able to inter-link with the other groups in the maritime sector such as with the government (MPA), labour groups and the private sector including fleet management, classification societies, shipbuilding, ship chartering and brokering, marine insurance, law and arbitration, shipping finance, ship chandling, among others.

"This will give young Singaporeans meaningful career choices where they will know also that this contributes to making Singapore a strong maritime country," says Capt Francis.

Constant innovation

Over at Oldendorff Carriers Singapore Pte Ltd, keeping up with technology is one of the main aspects to remaining sustainable in the market. "We need to constantly innovate and develop employees' skills for better work efficiency. Other than the Softmar shipping software that we have been using for many years now, we are moving toward building up a business intelligence team which requires skills and talent in data science," says the company's HR director Frank Helinski.

The company tries to develop its employees through various learning opportunities. These include on-site visits to ports, vessel visits, frequent internal workshops, presentations or small group discussions with the aim to share knowledge and ideas among employees, internal or external training done locally or overseas, seminars and conferences worldwide, and more.

"Constant two-way communication between the manager and the team is important to understand the needs and to provide guidance towards the right direction for the employee's career path," says Mr Helinski, who believes that the shipping industry has recently become more appealing to the young.

Over the past six years the company has participated in career fairs with local universities to generate brand awareness among graduating students and also to share that a career in shipping can be attractive and promising. "We offer competitive and attractive packages for fresh graduates and then develop them through overseas training as well as overseas career opportunities when they are ready," he adds.

As the maritime industry drives towards innovation, productivity improvement and creating new solutions via digitisation, there is demand for people with experience in managing change and skills in process re-design and improvement, says Jason Lin, talent acquisition lead at KSL Corporate Services Pte Ltd, which is part of the Kuok (Singapore) Ltd Group of Companies. Group companies include POSH and PCL. POSH is an offshore supply vessel company that operates globally, while PCL has about 90 vessels operating in the tanker, dry bulk, feeder and break bulk space.

"Our people are at the centre of our agenda. In order to ensure that employees continue to drive the success of our company, we want to help them to take their management skills to the next level. This year we launched our Lead@KSL initiative. It is an in-house training programme that offers a structured development curriculum to build our manager's core capabilities and set them up for success as our people managers," notes Mr Lin.

Managers attending this initiative undergo six modules ranging from change management, performance management, and building high-performing teams, to hiring techniques. In addition to management skills training, the businesses units are encouraged to plan the career development of each employee.