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Unions actively supporting talent development

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Ms Liew speaking at the Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map Seminar on the need for economic and industry transformation for sustainable growth. She also shared about the labour movement's efforts and plans to help operationalise the ITMs for workers. The seminar was attended by the tripartite partners from MPA, shipping firms, unions and staff.

THE labour movement has been actively engaging companies as well as workers in the maritime sector to upskill and reskill with the aim of upgrading and talent development in this important industry. Singapore's status as an international maritime hub contributes 7 per cent of the country's GDP, providing more than 170,000 jobs.

There is still a shortage of manpower, particularly in the sea-going sector which will ultimately affect the landscape of how the maritime industry will look like in the future, both sea-going and ashore, according to Mary Liew, president, NTUC.

"Core positions ashore which traditionally require sea-going experience may experience a severe shortage in the future, and these are good jobs for Singaporeans which may be lost if we do not build a strong Singapore core as the foundation for the industry," says Ms Liew, also the general secretary of the Singapore Maritime Officers' Union (SMOU). "I have always held the view that reskilling and upskilling will pave a better life for workers across all industries. As the current technological landscape evolves, ships and ports are rapidly being changed."

At the Tuas mega port, new equipment such as the automated guided vehicle (AGV) and automated rail-mounted gantry crane will change the way workers take on new jobs and increase their productivity. Crane operators used to climb up and down from the yard cranes with one operator manning one crane each but the fleet of 186 yard cranes in PSA's Pasir Panjang Terminals are now fully automated and a team of equipment specialists based in the control centre remotely manages multiple cranes, she points out.

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Ms Liew explains that on foreign-going ships, more functions have been automated. Previously, ships used to be manned by up to 50 crew members. Today, most ships are just manned by some 20 crew. The advancement of technology will see the number of crew reduced by even more and testing is being done for fully autonomous ships which require no crew onboard. "It is evident that new skills are constantly being required and without a mindset of continuous upgrading by both employers and employees, they will be made obsolete quickly. We have to ensure our workers acquire new skills, stay competitive and be ready for the jobs of tomorrow," she adds.

Through the unions, NTUC has been working with companies to embrace digital solutions and technology and uplift workforce capabilities.

For the Tuas mega port which is slated to commence operations in 2021, PSA and the unions - Singapore Port Workers Union (SPWU) and the Port Officers' Union (POU) - have been active in adopting digital solutions and technology. "Customised programmes to raise the technology quotient of PSA staff were introduced to staff. For instance, POU, together with e2i (Employment and Employability Institute), PSA management and the Singapore University of Social Sciences, started quarterly professional development seminars for its members," Ms Liew says.

Some of the topics discussed at these seminars include the fourth industrial revolution, trends in the port and shipping industry, and logistics and supply chain industry. PSA, with the support of SPWU and POU, also launched the "Gearing for a Digital Workplace in PSA" course for all its frontline staff to introduce them to new disruptive technologies, she notes.

Ms Liew says there is a S$12.6 million boost jointly by SkillsFuture Singapore, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and SMOU over three years to continue the grooming of 200 Singaporeans to become deck and marine engineer officers through the Tripartite Nautical Training Award (TNTA) and Tripartite Engineering Training Award (TETA) programmes.

"SMOU has invested over S$4 million in its training arm - the Wavelink Maritime Simulation Centre run by the Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI) to train quality officers and cadets for the industry. Over 300 cadets have been trained by WMI in the TNTA and TETA programmes, with 50 expected to become CoC Class 3 Deck Officers by this year," says Ms Liew. At the same time the NTUC-Education and Training Fund (NETF) supports workers in skills upgrading and reskilling through training subsidies.

To create meaningful career pathways in the maritime sector for Singaporeans, companies together with the tripartite partners should first focus on developing a Singapore core in the industry. The two taskforces set up by the MPA - TF-Sea and TF-Shore - aim to build a sustainable pipeline of a Singaporean core within the seafaring sector to support shipping and port activities, and to address the manpower gaps in key maritime shore-based sectors, Ms Liew adds.