‘We urgently need to bridge the skills gap in the Blue economy’ – chairman, MMF

JOSEPH ZAMMIT MCKEON, chairman, Malta Maritime Forum

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 May, 2022 at 12:41 pm by Andre Camilleri

Addressing concerns regarding a lack of trained staff in the maritime sector, limited opportunities locally and career guidance for those looking to get into the sector are all hot topics for the Malta Maritime Forum. Dayna Camilleri Clarke speaks to judge JOSEPH ZAMMIT MCKEON, chairman, Malta Maritime Forum ahead of a conference on the same subject.

“I was recently honoured to open a seminar organised by the Malta Maritime Forum (MMF) and the WestMed National Hub for Malta which discussed the very topical subject of theskills gap which is currently afflicting the Blue economy. The seminar, which was aptly held on World Maritime Day, was aimed principally at suggesting concrete and lasting solutions to the very thorny issue of skill shortages in the industry which has acted as a serious bottleneck to future sustained expansion across all sectors represented by the Forum.

The constraints are evident and pervasive at all levels with companies having to resort to procuring skills from abroad, often at a higher cost. In fact, members of the Forum consistently report shortages of land-based persons across diverse sectors: terminal operations, ship-repair and ship agencies, to mention but a few. Not surprisingly, we also hear of shortages in sea-faring personnel in merchant shipping, superyachts and the cruise liner industry because potential entrants are put back by the prospect of spending long periods away from home and family.” The skills gap is the result of a combination of factors explains Zammit McKeon.

“To start with, the“cadet scheme”as it was known then, gave successful results in terms of quantity and quality of qualified sea-faring personnel. The cadets underwent years of academic study on maritime subjects including the laws of the sea, navigation and engineering but part of their course entailed periods of service at sea on Sea Malta ships or on other vessels as coordinated by the Nautical School. The path from cadet to qualified master/engineer took between six to seven years.

The scheme hinged around the Nautical School, which was run very professionally despite financing constraints. However, once it was decided to discontinue the Nautical School (with its function transferred to other educational bodies), crucial sea-time opportunities for cadets were lost and cadets were left on their own to seek shipping lines interested and willing to take them on.

Unfortunately, this situation still prevails to the detriment of our children and our industry.  Possible solutions exist through tangible and concrete collaboration between all relevant stakeholders (public and private) with a view to encourage shipowners, registered under the Malta flag, to take on a number of cadets who qualify from a professional nautical school.

Besides, the MMF believes that the skills gap in the maritime industry may be partly alleviated through more appropriate career guidance structures which are crucial determinants in life-altering decisions which our children are obliged to make upon choosing their future career paths.

Much to our regret, the maritime industry did not feature in theI Choose – Nagħżel il-Karriera Tiegħiinitiative for 2021. Besides, the current National Curriculum does not include any subject related to the Blue economy despite its economic and strategic importance to the country.”

Zammit McKeon outlines potential solutions: “The authorities need to ensure they are preparing the skills the maritime industry needs in the near future. This necessitates serious planning and forecasting exercises performed in close cooperation with the industry.

The MMF has gone on record to call for a centralised Training and Certification Department within the Authority for Transport with a strong and consistent vision which would need to be imparted to anyone potentially interested in pursuing a career in the maritime industry indicating a straight-forward, logical, coherent and attainable path within the framework of our education system.

The way forward, according to the MMF is for the relevant stakeholders (both public and private) to come together and join the dots to eliminate, as far as possible, labour market frictions that hamper employers from the necessary talent and skills that sustain their business models.

Our young people need to be made aware of the rewarding career opportunities that the Blue economy has to offer. The education authorities need to invest in the latest technologies to provide updated teaching, qualifications and a learning environment that makes the effort of the student worthwhile indeed. Employers need to provide apprenticeship schemes, industrial placements and on-the-job training to our young people, support them to live up to the challenges of the working world.

A clear direction towards the future will encourage young people to follow that path, safe in the knowledge that stable and rewarding opportunities await them after their student days.

Clearly, the MMF will continue to give its contribution so that the maritime industry will remain a prime mover for this country for the benefit of all, especially our young people.”

- Advertisement -