Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani has inaugurated ICS Maritime Leadership Conference by urging the industry to take active steps to encourage young people to choose maritime as a career and highlighting a growing lack of talent in the shipping industry.

Speaking at today’s event, which took place at the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) London headquarters and was organised by the Institue of Chartered Shipbrokers (ICS), Ghani touched upon one of the major challenges of the sector – the lack of talented workforce.

In her keynote speech, Ghani said that the UK must address the skills gap to meet the increasing demands of the shipping industry, adding that the government will continue to offer its support to tackle this issue. “We work in a sector that is vital to everyone’s lives and we must do everything we can to invest in and support the people of this industry and grow their capabilities,” she said.

“We need the right people with the right skills in the right jobs, and we need to recruit from the widest talent pool. [We must] train both – those that are new to the sector, and those already in the sector to the highest standards with the latest technological advancements and make learning resources accessible and affordable to everyone.”

Ghani added that in order to attract more young millennials to the sector, shipowners and academics must create a supportive environment supporting change and the creation of “a culture of continuous learning at work”.

“We need to show these young people the full breadth of opportunities this sector has to offer,” she claimed. “My experience is that the sector is exciting, dynamic, adventurous and at the forefront of technological change, and we [should show that].”

Ghani said that it’s imperative to “smash stereotypes” about the sector “because stereotypes continue to prove to be a hindrance to attract young workers”.

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“We need to take proactive steps now to address the current perception and market ourselves to be the sector people want to join, and with the increasing speed of technological change of growing expectations of the next generation, we must be strategic and coordinated in our approach,” she said.

Encouraging students and recruiting more workers is also paramount, as Ghani stated “the industry can’t afford any further delay”.

“While we are making great strides to achieve this,” she continued, “I’m afraid that we need to do more to inspire people to consider a career in maritime and do more to encourage people into STEM subjects,” she added.

In a bid to achieve this very purpose, in July 2019, the UK’s Department of Transport (DfT) awarded £40,000 to the ICS for its shipping programme titled ‘Why shipping matters’, which allowed the institute to hold shipping-related classes for secondary school students.

Strong focus on creating a gender-balanced workforce

Addressing the issue of diversity, Ghani said that the shipping industry begs for a massive transformation and the government has pledged to encourage more women in maritime.

“There are no quick fixes when it comes to solving issues of diversity and inclusion, which is something we all need to focus on for many, many years to come,” she said.

Earlier this year, Ghani attended the London International Shipping Week 2019, during which she announced the government would set aside £730,000 to boost maritime careers and increase diversity. Some £40,000 of such sum was used to fund the ‘Maritime and Me’ campaign launched by Maritime UK in September.

“[This initiative] showcases a variety of maritime careers available for girls from a diverse range of backgrounds,” Ghani added today.

Technology is changing the set of skills expected from future seafarers

Concluding her keynote speech, Ghani said that technology is changing the skills required in shipping and training programmes will evolve accordingly. “As we look towards 2050, the skills profile of a maritime workforce will fundamentally change.

“In the next 30 years, the importance of STEM subjects will increase as jobs become more technologically driven, and schools will become more multidisciplinary,” she continued.

“It may not be enough for employees to simply operate a system but they have to be able to create and maintain it too. It’s likely that future seafarers will be expected to be equipped with transferable IT skills.

“With the introduction of autonomy and greater technological developments, we need to ensure that the UK is on the front foot with the right skills.”

With this purpose in mind, in July this year, the UK Government announced the launch of a Maritime Skills Commission that will help bridge training gaps for those working in the industry.

Concluding the keynote, Ghani expressed her confidence in the future of the sector, even despite the country’s ongoing political and financial struggles: “We are, of course, entering a period of unprecedented challenges, but I see them as all opportunities.”