Nautilus’s Symposium in the Netherlands showed that the industry must adapt if it is to attract and retain young people recent Nautilus Netherlands branch symposium in Rotterdam posed the question: ‘How do we make the maritime industry more attractive to young people?’
It’s a thorny issue that we are grappling with also in the UK branch and across the world, with a deepening global shortfall in Merchant Navy officers predicted while around a third of current serving officers in Europe are set to retire in the next few years.
We heard from Dutch students at the symposium that many young people are increasingly ‘calling it quits’ after five or six years at sea. For many young people, being away at sea for a long time is increasingly a problem, and that online connection to family and friends is not negotiable. We also heard that access to leisure facilities onboard and employee involvement in company decision-making are also very important.
Sadly, we learned that career opportunities for far too many female seafarers continue to be curtailed due to outdated onboard roster patterns that don’t support parents with young children, or those wanting to start a family. Seafaring families of all types would benefit from a radical rethink of time onboard. The Covid-19 pandemic taught us that life is precious and all too fleeting, and in maritime we were not insulated from the ‘great quitting’ that resulted as many workers reassessed their priorities. Outdated employment practices are being rejected – for the benefit of all – and shipping must respond to this challenge.
It is so very important that we make sure our industry is one that people want to work in, particularly as our world continues to change in ways we can only start to imagine, as we move towards decarbonisation and ‘net zero’ in shipping and as we advocate for a Just Transition that sees no seafarer left behind.
Unions showing the way
A maritime industry that is full of hope, aspiration and opportunity, that provides decent work with good wages and conditions, medical care, training opportunities, career advancement and security in retirement, is an industry worth being part of.
I was proud to take that message to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Seafarers’ Expo in Manila on International Day of the Seafarer, which gave thousands of seafarers and their families the opportunity to speak with ITF inspectors, as well as legal, labour and health experts, about the issues affect their working lives.
Maritime professionals of all ages, genders, ethnicities and experience need to know that this industry is one in which they can have long and successful careers – supported and empowered by their trade unions.
This starts as soon as a young person begins their maritime training, and that is why Nautilus has called for urgent action from the UK government to address shortcomings in the UK cadet training system that have been identified by the Maritime Skills Commission.
I would like to see UK cadet training programmes being modernised and administered centrally in the best interests of students, not fragmented and not based on the financial interests of sponsoring shipowners or their contracted training providers. By treating cadets with dignity, supporting them in the move to sea, giving them choice where they study, and ensuring they have enough to live on, we will provide a strong foundation for a lifelong career in maritime – at sea and ashore. It is surely in the national interest and our politicians have a duty to understand this.