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Education and training

Industry experts join forces to assess maritime training

30 November 2020

The UK's new Maritime Skills Commission (MSC) issued its first Annual Report at the end of October. Rob Coston takes a look at the Commission's progress in 2020.

The only way for the maritime industry to thrive is by attracting capable trainees and providing high-quality training options for skilled maritime professionals.

It was a positive sign, therefore, when the Department for Transport and Maritime UK announced that they would create a Maritime Skills Commission (MSC) to 'lead the sector’s work in ensuring a pipeline of talented people to serve all parts of the sector covering shipping, ports, leisure marine, engineering, science and professional services.'

The MSC now consists of a broad range of experts from across the shipping, ports, engineering, services and leisure marine industries. It is chaired by Graham Baldwin, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Central Lancashire and includes academics, business leaders, training providers, and other key maritime stakeholders.

Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson, who is one of these commissioners, explains why he took on the role:

'It is essential for the Commission to fully consider the needs of our members and UK maritime professionals,' he says.

'Our seafarers are held in high regard around the world, yet over the past 40 years the British seagoing workforce has declined by around two thirds. This trend is likely to continue as so many masters and engineers are currently aged 60 or over. The work of this Commission is targeted at addressing this issue and ensuring that our industry has the right talent, support and resources to thrive in future.'

First findings

The Commission began its work by commissioning a Labour Market Intelligence Report to understand the state of the sector: what is known about training provision, who the commission should be speaking to, and what further research will be required.

This scoping report, which came out in August, raised several important issues. Above all, it found that data about maritime training is very patchy. The quality of data, and what kind is collected, varies across the UK and across different sectors. More comprehensive figures must be gathered so that the MSC is not working in the dark.

The report identified other issues, including:

• a few areas where there is trouble recruiting, e.g. engineering
• the use of contractors and overtime to fill gaps
• an ageing workforce
• the need for a review of the Merchant Navy Cadet Programme
• future automation/innovation
• Brexit and reliance on overseas recruitment
• a lack of former cadets for the business services sector
• competition for talent with non-maritime industry

Progress in 2020

Since the scoping report, the MSC has released a Scheme of Work to support the maritime minister's objectives and get a better understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on the sector.
The Annual Report, which has now been presented to maritime minister Robert Courts MP and the Maritime UK National Council, shows progress on the first four projects following the scoping report.

Our seafarers are held in high regard around the world, yet over the past 40 years the British seagoing workforce has declined by around two thirds... The work of this Commission is targeted at addressing this issue and ensuring that our industry has the right talent, support and resources to thrive in future.' Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson

Seafarer Cadet Review

The MSC is looking at more than just the funding of the government’s Support for Maritime Training (SMarT) scheme and whether it delivers value for money. An MSC project group led by the CEO of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has now decided to examine the number of officer cadets needed and whether current numbers are enough, whether maritime training is competitive with other industries, and whether the skills delivered are the right ones for both the industry and the seafarers.

The ultimate aim, now established by the group, is to ensure that 'the UK strengthens its position as the best place in the world to educate seafaring officers'.

Looking at the details of this the commission intends to explore a whole range of areas: for example, can apprenticeships for ratings complement cadetships as a way of attracting talent to the sector? Are Merchant Navy and Royal Navy education sufficiently integrated? And is the sector 'too reliant on sea time and not focused enough on skills demonstrated' – in other words, the commission will look into the simulator debate that is causing controversy.

This group expects to complete this review by May 2021.

Future Workforce Research

This project focuses on ports and comes largely from an operator perspective, looking at how accelerating trends in globalisation, supply chain automation, digitalisation and sustainability will change the port workforce in future.

This working group foresees benefits – such as increased safety – but also challenges to be addressed. It has already assessed the present workforce in many respects but is looking at further information on talent and skills, working practices and diversity through desk research and interviews.

Exporting Maritime Education and Training

This project has begun to bring together parties in the maritime sector who are interested in exporting their expertise.

It will involve initial research into training provision, plus a discussion about how organisations and the Department for International Trade can work together to showcase UK training abroad.

Covid-19 and the use of Technology in Learning

No project would be complete now without examining the effects of the Covid-19 crisis.
The MSC notes that training providers have needed to adapt quickly in the face of changing restrictions imposed by the government. Most have been trying to provide the same quality of education using digital technology.

According to the MSC, this has 'brought forward the day when there is widespread acceptance of the use of digital technology in learning'. It plans to 'consolidate the gains by capturing and sharing the lessons learned' during the ongoing crisis. The findings will ultimately be shared with all maritime training providers.

Moving ahead

The next step for the MSC will come in January 2021, when it will launch its first evidence-gathering workshop. Stakeholders from across the sector will be welcome to submit data, evidence, and research to help drive the commission’s work forward.

Altogether, the MSC has a long and difficult task ahead – it must determine the state of maritime education for years to come. Already it has identified exactly why its work is so important: from Covid-19 to technological change, bit changes are afoot. The industry – and seafarers – must be well prepared.


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