Maritime employment & skills
- It is vital – both for shipping and the wider maritime cluster in the UK – that professional maritime skills, particularly those of seafarers, should be safeguarded and renewed for the long-term future
- Government policy must ensure that the environment for training and employing seafarers in this country is competitive and encourages entry into this profession, at which the UK has traditionally excelled. Specifically, the costs of training and employing UK-resident seafarers must, as far as possible, match those in our competitor countries, particularly in Europe
- Huge advances have been made in recent years to attract high calibre entrants to sea-going careers. Degree-level qualifications have become established as the primary entry route for sea-going officers, whilst opportunities have increased for ratings to upgrade their skills to officer status. Numbers of new officer recruits have broadly doubled since 2000 to over 900 per year
- This increase has not yet reached the levels necessary for the replacement of all officers retiring from the industry. Hence efforts need to be redoubled, in the national interest.
The facts in the three sectors represented within Maritime UK are set out in the next paragraphs.
Shipping – The continuing shortages of sea-going officers need to be addressed, not just to safeguard the shipping industry, but also because their skills – which can only be acquired at sea –are essential or highly desirable for many shore-based maritime activities in the UK cluster.
The numbers of UK Merchant Navy officers and ratings, and also shore-staff employed in the UK shipping industry, have declined in recent years. 11,000 certificated deck and engineer officers and4,000 deck, engine room and General Purpose ratings were working regularly at sea in 2011 – a decline of about 15% since 2002. [and 8,500 shore-based in 2007.] Following the reversal of the fleet decline, new officer training (after a long period of under-recruitment) has revived strongly on the back of changes to the levels of entry routes. However, the age profile of serving UK seafarers suggests that large numbers will retire in the coming decade – which means that more is required to safeguard the flow of officers in particular for the future.
The recognised and regular survey of seafarer skills (undertaken by the International Shipping Federation and the Baltic and International Maritime Council) has consistently warned of a shortfall of professional sea-going officers in the world. The last estimate (in 2010) was of an officer shortage of a magnitude of 2% with supply of and demand for ratings being more balanced. The officer shortage is likely to remain with the shipping industry in the foreseeable future – it is not just a question of quantity, but also of finding sufficient numbers of applicants of the required quality.
The concern at future shortages is particularly pronounced in the UK, because of
- the demographic trends stemming from the time when the UK fleet was much larger and the natural process of UK officers coming to the end of their careers over the next few years; and
- the long period of under-recruitment during the last quarter of the last century which means that the needs of a fleet which has expanded massively since 2000 cannot readily be met from home-grown sources.
Ports – In 2005 the UK Government estimated that 74,000 people were working directly on port related activities. In its draft report on the economic significance of ports, Oxford Economics puts the figure at 132,000 though this includes groups such as customs and Immigration staff and some maritime businesses (e.g. marine insurance) based in port areas. A further UK Government survey in 2006 also found that 21% of port staff were engaged in marine operations, while over half (53%) were involved in cargo operations. Port Skills and Safety (PSS working to UKMPG and BPA) are currently developing a degree-level qualification framework for key personnel working at management level, including pilots and harbour masters. The underlying intention is to improve access routes into the industry, thereby broadening the range of people considering a career in ports though the expectation is that marine posts in ports will continue to be attractive to those with shipboard experience. PSS is also developing an apprenticeship framework for port operations.
Maritime Business Services – The UK, and particularly London, remains the global centre for maritime business – employing in excess of 14,000 people in the London area alone. Much of this is high-level expertise built up over many years around a core centre of excellence – “Maritime London”.
The maritime insurance industry is a key facet of “Maritime London” and, along with many other sectors, is suffering from an aging work profile. This is affecting claims adjusting, claims broking, average adjusting and surveying. Compounding this problem, the insurance industry pulls heavily upon people with seagoing experience, therefore shortages in the Merchant Navy (as identified above) are heavily impinging recruitment.
There is clearly an urgent need – in the national interest – to reverse the downward skills trend for professional mariners. Government should not be deceived into thinking that, because of the recent increases in cadet recruitment spurred on by the development of graduate-qualification entry routes, no action is necessary to underpin the maritime skills base in the UK, because:
- the reversal will be required over a sustained period if the skills complement is genuinely to be renewed (and the demographic trends of recent years reversed); and
- it is equally important to encourage newly-qualified cadets to continue their professional education all the way through to the more senior qualifications (e.g. to Master or Chief Engineer), which will give them the experience and skills required not just for their seagoing career but also to make them effective in and attractive to other maritime sectors as well.
The self-evident prerequisite for developing indigenous maritime skills is the existence of a sufficiently strong and successful national merchant fleet operated from the UK. A separate briefing paper explains the crucial importance of a stable and certain fiscal regime for shipping in the UK and particularly the importance of the UK’s tonnage tax regime.
One complication is that employment at sea for UK and other European officers takes place in a global market, in which many officers are available from lower-cost countries in the Far East and other parts of the world (including Europe). Protectionism would be disastrous for the UK and other European fleets and past experience indicates that it tends to have the opposite effect to the intended one. Hence countries such as the UK have to find ways of ensuring that levels of pay and other related conditions of their nationals do not prevent them from being attractive to employers.
There has been a strong degree of unanimity between the industry and seafarers’ unions (National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers – RMT and Nautilus International) in recent years in the pursuit of a competitive climate in the UK, regarding both the circumstances underpinning the employment of British seafarers and measures to boost training.
Whilst it was encouraging that the Government recognised the excellent value of the Support for Maritime Training (SMarT) scheme and pledged to maintain it for the lifetime of the current Parliament, more needs to be done to ensure that those who achieve their first seagoing officer Certificates of Competency (CoCs) continue their education and training during their employment on board. The industry has called upon the Government to adopt more positive employment and training measures most notably a more competitive training cost regime, which could support new recruits through their full (as opposed to just cadet) training. Proper support for seafarer training is essential since professional maritime skills underpin the UK’s maritime business services and ports and therefore the UK’s prominence as a centre of maritime excellence.
 DfT Seafarer Statistics