The EU-funded SkillSea project is working to identify the digital, green and soft management skills European maritime professionals will need in the years to come ‒ and make sure these are taught at college. Andrew Linington reports
A blueprint that seeks to provide maritime professionals with 'future-proofed' training has been unveiled in a new report from the European Union-funded SkillSea project.
Written by experts at the Norwegian University of Science & Technology (NTNU) and Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, the report identifies ways in which maritime education and training could be improved – including greater use of simulation-based learning and new training packages to smooth the path between seagoing and shore-based employment.
The research team examined four key trends which are having an increasing influence upon the future skills and competence needs of those working in the shipping industry: sustainable development, collaboration among clusters, digitalisation, and education.
The report draws from in-depth interviews with a dozen experts from across the maritime industry, including shipowner and seafarer union representatives, and voices from classification societies, finance, technology, equipment and IT, and education and training.
The report's findings will be used to develop further work programmes being undertaken in the four-year SkillSea project, which seeks not only to produce a sustainable skills strategy for European maritime professionals, but also to increase their numbers. Nautilus is part of the project consortium, which has representatives from national maritime authorities, shipping companies, shipowners' associations, seafarer unions and maritime education providers from 16 European countries.
Nautilus professional and technical officer David Appleton welcomed the report, noting that the findings in relation to skills shortages for current seafarers and the potential to use new technology to enhance seafarer training were very closely aligned with the results of the Union's recent STCW survey.
'We look forward to participating in the next stage of the project to develop solutions to address the identified gaps,' he said.
Researchers identified the way in which sustainable development is affecting shipping and, in turn, is creating new competencies and skillsets for seafarers to master. As well as working with new 'clean' fuels and zero-emission tech, and with environment-friendly equipment such as scrubbers and ballast water management systems, seafarers are also expected to ensure high levels of vessel utilisation and advanced routeing to enhance the efficiency of operations.
'The technology shifts with respect to energy systems and operational challenges are more significant than before,' the study found. 'The gap between common practice and expected competences is growing.'
Advanced skills in analytics
The report assesses the way in which technology is transforming maritime operations, with a growing number of functions being transferred from ships to shore-based control centres. This will fuel demand for advanced skills in analytics and the use of data in optimising fleet operations.
'If clean fuel is an example, then electricity and new technologies will be other vital drivers in shipping industries. Seafarers must be able to gain knowledge on the safe use and storage of carbon and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), as well as battery packages, and even retractable wind turbines, solar panels, and sails. All these are beyond current International Maritime Organization (IMO) conventions and require new thinking in maritime education and training.'
Similarly, the report cautions, the continued development of autonomous and advanced support systems onboard 'will cause increasingly challenging interactions between complex autonomous systems and the crew. Maritime professionals (both seagoing and shore-based) need in-depth understanding of the complex systems onboard to be able to serve the needed redundancy of all systems.'
The findings on skills shortages for current seafarers and the potential to use new technology to enhance seafarer training are closely aligned with the results of the Union's recent STCW survey Nautilus professional and technical officer David Appleton
The research team highlighted the importance of strong European maritime clusters within the globalised economy, and underlined the need for specialist skills and expertise to maintain the region's competitive edge.
There is 'a unique opportunity' to develop collaboration and cooperation between maritime education and training centres and surrounding industrial clusters of advanced companies, which will in turn foster the development of new competencies for the maritime industry's future workforce.
The report also points to the benefits that could flow from giving shore-based maritime personnel a better understanding of the challenges and issues that seagoing maritime professionals face. 'This will both facilitate innovation and enable better sea-land collaborations,' it adds.
Researchers said they had found a need for more transversal skills between maritime occupational profiles. 'When it comes to mobility in maritime education, this needs to become a reality.'
'The future skills of maritime professionals depend on how well we are able to help them to find their own ways to co-build maritime studies in an interdisciplinary field. This is urgent and necessary.'
Tech teaching tools
As a minimum, nautical studies must be kept up to date with a rapidly changing, technology-driven maritime world.
'Technology changes maritime education and training towards more flexible and on-demand paths. In line with the rapid technology changes, maritime education and training must seek effective training methods to meet the needs of the shipping industry. Training courses should be accessible from anywhere and at any time.
'To prepare for the future, new courses and teaching methods must be introduced, such as using simulators (including the supported tools, such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and the Internet of Things (IoT) to train high-risk operations and team performance, both ashore and at sea through e-learning platform.'
The research identified a need for a flexible and scalable training system which encourages specialisation. However, the nature of IMO decision-making 'results in a cycle of adaptation to current technology that lags behind maritime technology development – in some cases by decades'.
Updating the curriculum
While digital skills are increasingly important for maritime professionals, finding the time to learn them during basic maritime training competes with current criteria and puts pressure on minimising STCW training, while learning them after graduation is expensive in terms of both time and money.
It calls for three core areas to be addressed:
- Developing maritime professionals' competence and skillsets in response to the rapid development of onboard technologies such as ICT and sustainable technologies
- Improving seafarers' soft skills in leadership and management with new training programmes aimed at both furthering their onboard career and supporting the transition to an onshore career
- Establishing bridging programmes that complement the IMO certificate-based education towards occupational profiles with a wider reach in the areas of digital, sustainable, transversal and leadership skills. The aim is to help to bridge the gaps between shore-based and seagoing profiles, and the report suggests these programmes can be established as module courses to attract maritime professionals for the future shipping industry.
The report also recommends that STCW training should be expanded, with digital and sustainable skills integrated within courses, along with maritime law, business finance, remote operation and other new technology-based skills.
Ultimately, the development of more responsive and advanced training programmes will create an opportunity for the enhanced mobility of seafarers. 'Their experience and competence will be carried back to technology development and innovation, both at sea and ashore.
'Such a strategy will ensure that training, shipping industries, maritime professionals and – most importantly – technology development and innovation, will progress towards new achievements in a more structured, coordinated and collaborative manner.'
The research was conducted before the coronavirus crisis and its associated lockdowns hit Europe. However, the SkillSea researchers say, this does not affect the findings of the report, and the Covid-19 situation makes its conclusions even more relevant.
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