From self driving smart ships to crewing systems in the cloud, the use of marine technology in jobs in the shipping industry is a topic that makes frequent appearances on maritime news websites, in industry related blogs and in our social media news feeds.
Despite being a traditionally minded industry, many working in the shipping, offshore and maritime sectors have been stepping up and adapting to the growth in the usage of technology.
That means that not only are vessels becoming entirely different places to work, but the way the industry is run ‘behind the scenes’ is changing due to the digitization of communication platforms and the upgrading of systems, such as the use of web-based applicant tracking systems (ATS), and crewing systems and software.
Ships have become more advanced with greater connectivity, integrated controls and power management.
For more on that, take a look at the IMO’s strategic plan which aims to:
“Integrate new and advancing technologies in the regulatory framework.”
But as the majority of us still recognize, it is seafarers who are the very heart and soul of the maritime industry. And regardless of the level of technical capabilities the vessels of the future may have, there is still a very strong need for qualified seafarers to work in jobs at sea.
So if technology and seafarers both have a part to play in modern shipping it means as marine technology moves ever faster, shipowners and managers cannot afford to slow down. Implementing a more powerful, cloud-based maritime recruitment and crewing system is one way savvy shipping companies are evolving – while making life easier for themselves – but what about those working in jobs at sea?
The use of more advanced tech has had a knock-on effect on jobs at sea and the skills that seafarers are now required to have.
Now, not only are seafarers obligated to upgrade their learning and education to include technology-based knowledge but they must also retain the traditional skills and exhibit the personality traits that are needed to succeed in jobs at sea.
And while this might not be too much of a stretch for up and coming new recruits who will be learning about new tech and systems at maritime academy, and will be trained using different techniques to their predecessors, it can pose an issue for some older, more established seamen.
We are seeing two distinct types of seafarers and they are, generally speaking, separated by age – and their willingness to adopt technology and accept change.
For many of the younger generation of seamen, technology is an intrinsic part of their day to day lives as well as their seafarer jobs. While the older generation are not, or not so, accustomed to being reliant upon it. And this can leave a feeling of disconnect between the two groups.
Having said that, technology is really nothing new to seamen, seafarer jobs and the maritime industry. Like any industry, tools, processes and systems are liable to adapt and change.
When it comes down to it, complicated or relatively complicated technology has been used for decades onboard ships across the world. Even the compass was a new-fangled device when it was first introduced!
However, the difference we are seeing with marine technology and jobs at sea today, is that the type of tech and the systems that are being introduced has increased at such a rate that it is increasingly harder to pick up and use by those seamen who might be a little older or more established and who already have a set way of doing a certain task.
This means that the skill sets of these two groups of seamen need to be aligned, so that crews are all working from the same page. That can only happen if training for seafarer jobs can also change. Therefore, training needs to adapt both to the new generation of cadets and to older crew members.
This could include retraining in certain disciplines such as working with LNG fuels and using next level equipment such as simulators.
Offering consistent training on the latest systems, new features and any changes to marine technology seems like the obvious solution, right? But are shipowners willing to invest heavily in this?
Training for seafarer jobs should be changing in the same way as it has in every other industry, specifically with a focus on STEM subjects. The reason for this is that it’s fundamental for many industries.
Digital systems require that a seafarer has a certain understanding or level of experience with STEM. Not only should a seafarer be familiar with marine technology, but there should also be a focus on emotional intelligence, mental and physical well-being and an understanding of critical thinking in order to make longer journeys at sea easier to deal with.
The mental health and happiness of seafarers is a topic that, quite rightly, needs to be taken seriously, and ensuring all members of a crew are trained in the latest systems and tech so that they can work together more effectively will go some way to ensuring that.
And of course, when crews are confident in all aspects of their job and happier too, it will make vessels safer and more productive places to be.