Number crunching says nothing about seafarer competency shortages

By : Richard Clayton

HOW many seafarers will we need in 2026?
One way to work it out is to identify the trends in world trade over the next five years, then estimate how many ships will be needed, and settle on how many seafarers are required per ship. According to the Seafarer Workforce Report, the shipping industry will need somewhere between 923,860 and 970,630 officers, depending on whether you think growth in world trade will be low or high. Maritime education and training institutions are expected to meet the shortfall of between 13,264 and 22,618 officers. Ratings are easier to recruit: they won’t be such an issue. These are just numbers— numbers crunched using ballpark estimates and heavily fortified by caveats. Shipping’s leaders should be very wary of taking any decisions on the basis of such guesswork.

While the quantities will get the headlines, the real insight comes from the survey respondents’ own footnotes. One suggests that the pandemic and the restrictions imposed on crew repatriation have definitely affected the outlook of the seafarer, who will now be looking more dispassionately at comparable compensations and opportunities offered by shore jobs. Another expert warns that experienced officers are getting older; older officers tend to seek jobs ashore. Recruiting a similar number of fresh officers will keep the numbers level but hides a growing skill deficit. The most serious warning in the entire report comes in a graphic revealing the level of difficulty reported by shipping companies in recruiting STCW- certified seafarers. The three roles that are already proving difficult to fill are engine room officers, electro-technical officers and, hardest of all, chief engineers. Senior officers with technical experience are hardest to recruit, shipping company experts say. In the tanker and offshore sectors, Masters and chief officers on the navigation side are in short supply. The increasingly specialised nature of shipping, which in future will see an even greater emphasis on technology, means there’s nothing to be gained by pointing out a shortfall of 22,618 officers or even 13,264 officers if the officers you have can’t do the tasks required of them.

Then there’s the whole issue of decarbonisation, widely described as the single greatest transformation of the industry since the move from sail to steam. The report all but ignores the impact decarbonisation will have on recruitment of seafarers. The likely reason is that the full impact won’t be felt until after 2026, but that’s to miss the point. Shipping will need seafarers— both officers and ratings— trained in handling new fuels and working with innovative technologies by 2040, probably by 2030, if it is to meet its sustainability obligations. The industry has, thankfully, rejected the pipe dream of widespread unmanned operations, and has become a lot more mature about the way it embraces technology.

However, in obsessing about quantity instead of quality, this report falls short of its remit of providing a comprehensive overview of the supply and demand balance of STCW-certified seafarers. The question should not be how many seafarers will be needed but what competencies will be required. That would have made for an altogether more valuable study.

Source : Lloydslist




  LMB-BML 2007 Webmaster & designer: Cmdt. André Jehaes - email