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Learning the ropes

New skills for the new maritime market

Shipping’s transformation shows no sign of slowing. As the pace of technological advancement rises in the maritime industry, all stakeholders need to ask themselves: What new skills are needed to navigate the new reality in shipping?

From 3D printing and drones to autonomous ships, many of the rising innovations in the maritime industry today were unthinkable just a decade ago. The use of these new technologies is growing rapidly, and digitization is becoming anchored in everyday business practice in the shipping sector. Has the maritime workforce moved with the times?

Big data brings even bigger changes

One consequence of digitization is that data has become an extremely valuable asset in shipping. When captured, stored, and analyzed in the correct way, it can improve efficiency and reliability, enhance crew safety, and reduce operating costs. However, in doing so, it also changes the roles and responsibilities of crewmembers.

Thanks to sensors and network technology, big data now has many potential applications in the maritime industry – from condition-based maintenance to environmental monitoring. The problem is that many companies lack the knowledge to make the most of the available data. A survey conducted at Sea Asia 2017 revealed that 83 percent of industry leaders want to develop the skills of current employees to leverage the opportunities of big data.

Moreover, digital systems and the data they contain need to be protected. This is especially important as ships become increasingly connected and autonomous. With cyberthreats growing and new data protection regulations entering force, the maritime industry will have to invest in training staff to mitigate the risks.

With the increasing digitalization and automation of the shipping industry, the future seafarer must master new technology as well as good seamanship.

Source: The European Community Shipowners’ Association

Creating new maritime jobs

Big data will certainly give rise to new roles. It will demand managers and engineers with knowledge of predictive analytics, sensor data analysis, database management, and more. After all, companies need to draw the right conclusions from data to aid decision making. To avoid a skills shortage, maritime businesses and organizations will have to develop training and education programs that prepare the workforce for the digital future.

At the same time, digitization could even make maritime careers more attractive to potential recruits. As more and more parts of a ship become automated, crew sizes will get smaller and decision-making roles will be relocated to onshore facilities. By offering more comfortable positions on land, shipping might appeal to a more diverse pool of talented employees who are unwilling or unable to spend months at sea. However, employers should also be aware that many digital skills are transferable – meaning that shipping will have to compete with other sectors for the same skilled workers.

Change fueled by cost and climate concerns

Although shipping has traditionally been slow to take on new technology, increasingly strict environmental regulations have forced sweeping changes. This is another area where seafarers will require new skills and knowledge. In shipbuilding, technology partnerships will be established to explore new designs that comply with future regulations. And major regulatory changes such as the 2020 global sulfur limit may make some companies consider recruiting additional experts to evaluate the impact of upcoming regulations and plan for them accordingly.

New and upcoming careers in shipping

  • Condition monitoring analyst: Responsible for analyzing machine condition data from a wide variety of sources to prevent failures and identify areas for improvement.
  • Cybersecurity / data protection officer: The risk of cyberattacks is real – shipping companies will therefore require specialists to keep their data secure.
  • Environmental compliance officer: Although it is not a new position, the role of environmental compliance officers will become more complex and more important as stricter regulations come into force.
  • 3D printing engineer: As shipyards and components suppliers begin to adopt additive manufacturing, demand will increase for engineers with skills in CAD and 3D printing.
  • Control center operator: Many important shipping decisions will be made in onshore control centers, requiring experts in analysis, diagnostics, and troubleshooting.

If the shipping industry can successfully train and educate its workforce, it will become safer, more eco-friendly, and more efficient, as well as offering a wider variety of career paths.

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