Now is a great time to invest in maritime workforce of the future

There is a burning need for maritime professionals to receive training in environmentally friendly skills and technologies, second engineer Allan Dickson told the Maritime Skills Commission (MSC) Green Skills Forum at COP26 in Glasgow.

“We need to look at how we retrain the existing workforce with the skills of the future, and don’t just resign generations of highly skilled seafarers to the scrap heap,” he said.

Dickson called on the UK government to develop policies to maximise the employment of British seafarers in the UK to avoid a repeat of the HGV crisis in the maritime sector.

“The impact would be even more profound if similar issues were to occur among seafarers,” he stressed.

Speaking on his own training experience, Dickson noted the lack of training he received on new fuels and technologies.

“I must have had no more than an hour or two of training in battery power in the three-year cadetship. We did study gas fuel, but the technologies of the future that will help achieve net zero were entirely lacking.”

There is extra training available, however, it is usually very expensive and doesn’t cover the new hybrid systems that are being developed, according to Dickson.

“The problem is, we’re in a catch 22 situation now, because some of these new technologies that might get us to net zero, actually are so new that there’s not many ships using them, and the training certainly hasn’t caught up,” he further said.

Because of this lack of proper training, seafarers have called on the UK government and industry to invest in the maritime workforce of the future with targeted, modern training in green technologies in order to reach environmental targets.

Maritime union Nautilus would like to see a commitment from industry and from the government to help fund the retraining of merchant navy officers who may miss out on these new skills because they went through their training before they were offered.

Other key asks include:

  • Increase investment in the SMarT scheme to cover 100% of the cost of training UK-resident seafarers and require a commitment from employers to guarantee a period of employment on completion of a cadetship
  • Ensuring British seafarers and maritime professionals are able to benefit from new job opportunities created in decommissioning of offshore oil rigs – an industry worth £48bn
  • Better align cadet training and subsequent in-work training in new green technologies
  • For a link to be made between government funding of maritime technology companies and training.

 “The government talks about levelling up and building back better. Well, let’s build back fairer and ensure this investment comes with a commitment to good quality jobs for our highly skilled merchant navy workforce,” Dickson concluded.

Dickson spoke on a panel alongside Professor Graham Baldwin, chair of the MSC; Dr Iain Percy, CEO Artemis Technologies; David Tyler, commercial director Artemis Technologies; Allan Ralston, director of energy and renewables, Harland and Wolff; Paul Wickes, CEO Cornwall Marine Network and Aurelie Nollet, Cornwall Marine Network.

The MSC is a strategic body formed by Maritime UK and the Department of Transport to future-proof training for seafarers. The findings from the forum will be turned into a recommendation paper to be shared early 2022.

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