Despite its long history of significant technological advancements, the industry is now widely perceived as lagging behind in terms of technology and aligning with the employment needs of younger generations. This perception is supported by statistics, with 40% of maritime companies reporting a shortage of skilled workers (BIMCO) and a mere 4% of seafarers being under the age of 25 (Seafarers International Research Centre).
The struggle to attract younger technical talent has far-reaching consequences, including a decline in competitiveness, a looming shortage of qualified workers, and potential safety risks and operational challenges. With a scarcity of the most talented individuals, many other industries are eager to employ them, leaving the maritime industry trailing.
A key reason behind the industry's struggle to attract technical talent is the widespread perception that it is antiquated. While the maritime industry has pioneered technological advances, such as video conferencing and satellite communication, in terms of modern digital tools and the use of the cloud, many marine organisations today lag behind other industries. In addition, the maritime sector is often seen as old-fashioned, with organisations typically having under-resourced HR teams focused more on administrative support than fostering and promoting a contemporary working culture.
This outdated perception is not entirely justified, as numerous maritime organisations have made considerable technological progress. However, the prevailing culture of secrecy means that many organisations do not publicise their innovations, certainly not beyond existing maritime circles. This culture of secrecy, while sometimes necessary for national security, is often due to commercial competitiveness and contributes to the perception of the industry as outdated and lacking transparency. The industry and its organisations must find ways to communicate their technological advancements and innovative projects to a broader global audience to attract more talent. Moreover, while the industry has a robust physical safety culture, there is often insufficient focus on mental health, work-life balance, and similar benefits that can attract younger generations.
Although not all organisations within the maritime industry exhibit the same level of secrecy or antiquation, the industry as a whole must tackle these underlying issues if it hopes to attract and retain technical talent, particularly from the younger generation. Other industries have successfully addressed similar challenges, with the tech industry implementing strong employer branding campaigns to attract and retain top talent, contributing to its ongoing growth and success. The maritime sector can learn from these examples and adopt similar measures to enhance its image and attract the technical talent necessary to remain competitive.
Actions must be taken at the industry and organisational levels to tackle the industry's struggle to attract technical talent.
At the industry level, several steps can be taken to improve the industry's image and attract more technical talent. The industry needs to reduce its culture of secrecy and adopt a more open and transparent approach to its work and achievements. This could involve more frequent public communication about industry advancements and providing more opportunities for engagement and feedback from employees and the public.
The industry should also embrace employer branding and related campaigns to attract more talent. Employer branding involves promoting an organisation's reputation as an employer to attract and retain talent. This could include highlighting the industry's technological advancements, a strong focus on environmental and green technology, safety records, and opportunities for career advancement.
National campaigns by industry regulators are also effective in promoting the industry to potential recruits. These campaigns could emphasise the benefits of working in the maritime industry and dispel myths about the industry's perceived antiquation. For example, in Singapore, the maritime regulator MPA collaborates with universities, makes funding available, and runs campaigns to promote the industry as a great place to work.
At the organisational level, it is crucial to focus on culture and HR practices. The maritime industry needs to offer benefits that appeal to younger generations, such as flexible work arrangements, career development and training opportunities, and a focus on personal and mental health. Moreover, organisations must cultivate a more open and inclusive culture, emphasising transparency and employee feedback. This will require investment in modern HR and talent management tools, budget for employer branding campaigns, and hiring HR talent from tech and similar industries.
Another way to improve collaboration and communication is by implementing agile methodologies. Agile methodology is a collaborative approach to project management that emphasises iterative development, continuous improvement, and open communication. By adopting agile methodologies, organisations can work more efficiently and effectively, reduce project delays, and foster a more collaborative and inclusive culture.
Finally, creating a feedback loop between technical teams and other departments is essential. By soliciting feedback from other departments, technical teams can better understand their needs and challenges and tailor their solutions accordingly. Additionally, by providing regular updates and progress reports, technical teams can keep other departments informed of their work and build trust and collaboration. This cross-functional collaboration can also help to break down silos between departments and foster a more collaborative and inclusive culture.
In conclusion, the maritime industry must take decisive action to address its struggle to attract and retain technical talent, particularly from the younger generation. By addressing the industry's outdated perception, reducing its culture of secrecy, and focusing on organisational culture and HR practices, the maritime industry can successfully adapt to the needs of the digital age. Embracing employer branding, promoting transparency, and fostering cross-functional collaboration will not only help to attract new talent but also contribute to the industry's overall competitiveness and long-term success.