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Securing the Future for Maritime Professions in Europe?

Interview: Prof. Dr. Max Johns and Prof. Dr. Orestis Schinas about the skills shortage in the maritime industry and the prospects for improvement through the European research project SkillSea - FutureProof Skills for the Maritime Transport Sector.

The multilateral, EU funded research project SkillSea has been running since 2019, engaging 27 partners from 16 European countries from industry and education as well as the maritime industry authorities. These organisations work on analysing the competitiveness of the European shipping sector with the aim to strengthen the situation and competitiveness of maritime professionals through targeted training and lifelong learning. Efforts are focused on developing high-quality, modern training and continuing education opportunities to benefit all those who work in the industry. After all, trends such as digitalisation, automation, environmental friendliness (greening) and the development of new technologies are already today shaping the shipping industry. 

These topics, however, are not yet firmly anchored in the maritime industry‘s education and training system. HSBA, the Hamburg School of Business Administration, is involved in the international research project as an academic project partner. We asked our experts for maritime management, Prof. Dr. Dirk Max Johns and Prof. Dr. Orestis Schinas, what the specific challenges are in tackling this task, which achievements have already been made in the project and what they would like to see as a result. 

 

Dear Professor Johns and Professor Schinas, you have both been actively involved in the project since 2019. What exactly can we, as a business school, contribute here?

HSBA plays an important role in helping to analyse the future needs of the industry. At the same time HSBA helps to develop tools that can be used in schools, universities and training centers to address the challenges that the maritime industry faces.

Are there any particular challenges in accomplishing this task?

The task is very complex for many reasons: Firstly, there is a global framework for maritime training via the STCW Convention (International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers Convention). However, in Europe, there is quite a variety of ways in which this global framework is implemented. Each EU member state has its own approach to how maritime professionals are administratively, institutionally and pedagogically trained. The reasons for these differences are often historical. Differences prevail in most places, this ranges from schools to on-board practices. As a result, even basic data from member states is difficult to compare. So, before we even start to analyse anything or even suggest improvements, we need to work on the data.
 

The first results of Work Package 1, which focuses on identifying skills requirements, were published last year (Report Current Skills Needs, Report Future Skill and Competence Needs). Which skills and competencies will be particularly important in the future?

There are three skills that we are highlighting together with the international team of researchers: Digitalisation and Data Analytics, Greening and Sustainability, and Soft Skills. These findings then feed through into the other Work Packages.

HSBA is also involved in Work Package 2 which addresses the improvement of labour mobility, e.g. from maritime to land-based roles. This should be achieved by future proving education and training and thereby closing the skills gaps. Now that the requirements have been identified- where do we go from here? How can the needed skills and competencies be taught effectively?

People working in the shipping industry are often extremely well-trained, experienced, and self-reliant experts. However, they need additional skills to be able to transfer knowledge and experience from ship to shore in the best possible way. This is where the MBA Shipping comes in; HSBA has been a role model across Europe for closing precisely such gaps. For this project, we can contribute our knowledge from many years of experience, and our curriculum.

The Corona pandemic has inevitably changed things in terms of training and continuing education. There is much more online teaching and training, and less on-the-job training. Is this particularly "dramatic" for the maritime sector, or have some meaningful, forward-looking changes developed because of this?

"Blended learning" has been standard in maritime training for at least 20 years. Because of this, the change wasn't overly big. Maritime professionals have two places of training anyway: at school or university and on board. COVID has only underlined once again that physical presence in some areas just cannot be replaced.

What do you hope to achieve with this research project? What results do you think are realistic?

The large EU project should ultimately have a very practical impact. Within the framework of SkillSea we want to present the EU Commission with a so-called "toolbox" that contains both theoretical recommendations and useful and practical curricula and modules. These modules are designed in such a way that they can be used in the many different training programmes that there are across Europe. The final report will also have a positive side effect: it will contain important and helpful recommendations for all training centers on how to adapt to future needs.

May this also have an impact beyond Europe?

The EU Commission, naturally, would first like to strengthen the situation of the European seafarers and the maritime industry here. What's important in this regard is that currently there is also a revision of the global STCW Convention underway at the United Nations. Shipping is actually the only sector where there is such a global training framework. If we come up with something modern here in Europe that addresses the challenges of the next generation of professionals and companies in the shipping sector, then it will certainly have an impact beyond Europe.

 

The 4-year project is co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union under the Key Action 2 – Sector Skill Alliances. 

The project is comprised of a consortium from national maritime authorities, shipping companies, shipowners’ associations, maritime trade unions and maritime education providers from 16 countries in Europe.

The SkillSea project aims to ensure that Europe’s maritime professionals possess key digital, green and soft management skills for the rapidly-changing maritime labour market. It seeks to not only produce a sustainable skills strategy, but also to increase the number of these professionals - enhancing the safety and efficiency of this vital sector.

More information: SkillSea "Futureproof Skills for the Maritime Transport Sector" - SkillSea