Blog: Second Build Back Better webinar shines a light on the progress made in the maritime sector


Last month, Maritime UK hosted the second webinar in the Build Back Better series, designed to look at the progress made on the priorities set out in the Maritime 2050 report. The session focused on people, and how the sector can invest in those working in the industry, through upskilling and creating a culture that encourages personal development, diversity, and a safe working environment.

In its 2050 strategy, Maritime UK was clear to outline the importance of people in the maritime sector, offering recommendations to drive future ambitions forward, collaborate across the wider sector, and encourage a greater diversity of people to promote opportunities and inclusivity. The strategy was bolstered in October when Chancellor Rishi Sunak committed to the sector, vowing to use local skills to grow maritime capabilities in the UK. The move should see the UK invest in 19,000 jobs across Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, including major investments in Scottish shipyards.

The webinar had a key focus - to understand what ‘building back better’ means for the ‘people’, and how the maritime sector can recover from the pandemic with people at the fore of what it does.

The session featured an expert panel, with members from across the sector. In attendance were Graham Baldwin, Chair, Maritime Skills Commission, John Cousley, Head of Seafarer, Safety, People, Technology and Infrastructure, Department for Transport, and Kerry Hourihan, Head of Maritime Skills, Diversity and Merchant Navy Medal, Maritime Operations, Department for Transport. Iain Mackinnon, Maritime Skills Commissioner, Catherine Spencer, Chair, Careers in Maritime Taskforce, and Sue Terpilowski, Co-Chair, Diversity in Maritime Taskforce also lent their voices to the discussion.

When asked about skills gaps in the sector, the intelligence report from MSC was referenced, having identified several gaps in the maritime industry. The panel confirmed, however, that with significant innovations and investments across maritime, we don’t know what skills we are going to need in the years and decades to come, though education and training must be able to evolve at a fast pace to help address gaps in knowledge. More than ever, organisations must recruit people and train them in the core skills which can evolve into technical and specialised skills in the future. One firm, Artemis Technologies, was singled out in the session for its success with a ‘once in a lifetime’ apprenticeship scheme.

Attendees highlighted the importance of core skills and soft skills in the maritime sector, and the importance of companies to demonstrate the relevance of the jobs to attract younger workers. Many agreed that, although there are no shortages of workers with the right skills and mindsets, the sector as a whole needs to work harder to increase the attractiveness of maritime. For example, maritime is ahead of many other industries on pay, but it’s still not seen as an attractive career path to many.

Aside from apprenticeships and graduate opportunities, the maritime sector must also work to attract mature students to join the workforce. Offering good terms and conditions, reducing barriers to entry, and investing in marketing to increase awareness were clear priorities. Experts also agreed that people at all stages in their career should be targeted and that there should be sufficient opportunities for reskilling with an accelerated education program so people can reskill and requalify.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly influenced people in the maritime sector, and there was time to reflect on Maritime 2050's commitment to developing a social framework for seafarers, and how it must be adapted to account for the ongoing staffing crisis and job cuts. The panel believed that the pandemic has shone a light on the lack of clarity in international conventions to not recognise their commitments, and added that employment conditions must be reviewed to protect seafarers. As Maritime 2050 is an international policy, it’s right that what happens here is emulated around the world via policy learning, and the UK must play a role in setting the new global standard.

On social frameworks, it was agreed that there needs to be continuous dialogue across government as many departments make decisions that affect seafarers, but they do not work in maritime. There must also be a renewed focus on mental health to improve the lives of seafarers around the world. It was also asked whether there were plans to implement safeguarding officers onboard vessels, and members confirmed they were working on better sexual harassment policies but stressed companies should take the lead, rather than waiting for guidance from the International Maritime Organisation.

Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways of the second Build Back Better webinar was what the sector as a whole can do, not just Government. Questions were raised on how the sector can channel more money into showing young people opportunities in maritime, and it was good to see diversity and inclusion at the forefront of discussions. There is, of course, a role for the government in convening, coupled with targeted spending in people and training, and there should be Greater cross-fertilisation between the Department for Transport and Department for Education on people and skills. In summary, there is a lot of enthusiasm and belief that maritime offers good opportunities - the key now is to go further with marketing the industry to the right people and attract a new generation.