Taking steps forward in maritime education and training

Last week’s Maritime Industry Dialogue webinar as well as the South African International Maritime Institute’s (SAIMI) Forward Thinking conference at the end of last year highlight the need for deeper collaboration across the various stakeholders to ensure relevant, cost-effective and inclusive maritime education and training.

As a developing nation with a number of economic and transformational challenges, South Africa finds itself caught between the need to create mass employment (especially for the youth) and the need to adapt to a maritime world that is internationally benchmarked as well as adopting technology and moving towards automation across all the sub-sectors.

It is a position that requires nimble thinking and a commitment to limit bureaucratic obstacles that slow the pace of change, collaboration and transformation.

It is worth emphasising certain words in the above sentence. We require nimble thinking alongside reduced bureaucracy that promoted collaboration as well as transformation.

After hosting last week’s webinar I maintain that much of what I wrote in a conclusion to the Forward Thinking conference is relevant right now.

Facilitating REAL collaboration and breaking down silos

As a sector the maritime industry pays lip-service to collaboration. Everyone agrees that there is a lack of collaboration when convened under the auspices of a conference or seminar – but simply leaves the venue to continue operating within their chosen silo. There is no real picture of what true collaboration looks like, but we know what a lack of collaboration looks like:

  • Duplicated or overlapping studies on maritime skills that are not implemented effectively.
  • A mismatch between the provision of certain maritime skills and the demand for maritime skills.
  • A threat of under-resourced (in terms of staff, infrastructure and equipment) training facilities due to a focus on quantity rather than quality of facilities.
  • A disjointed use of terminology across institutions and organisations that confuses the maritime skills landscape.
  • A mistrust and unwillingness to collaborate across industry players, training providers and other relevant institutes as each stakeholder protects their domain in a harsh economic reality.
  • The tendency to convene talk-shop after talk-shop to address the same issues over and over again.

Redefining this picture is viable. Creating one repository for all maritime-related studies would certainly be a good first step to help curb duplication and foster collaborative research as well as knowledge sharing.

There is a diversity of organisations, institutes, government departments and even tertiary institutions that continue to undertake skills audits and sector studies that overlap with no real interaction or collation.

In addition, a central point for issuing requests for proposals or quotes from the private sector for studies and research relating to skills across the sector could be considered. All entities requiring data could submit an outline of their required information that could be collated and consolidated via this central point to provide a cohesive source of information and research.

The mismatch between supply and demand of maritime skills requires more significant input from industry. Industry (the demand side of the equation) needs to provide information relating to current and future skills requirements on a more regular basis. Creating a digital tool to facilitate this constant input of information is a viable idea to help match supply and demand.

As important as it is to create a network of colleges, universities and other tertiary training providers that caters for a national footprint – the notion that every existing college needs a maritime qualification is disingenuous to the students that may elect to enrol at institutions that cannot afford to attract the right level of instructors or that cannot afford to invest in equipment that adequately skills their students for current as well as future industry needs.

Talk around a national maritime academy that also caters for the needs of the region should be revisited in an environment that casts aside parochial interests to the benefit of a national and long-term interest of matching skills development and demand.

While, however, there is a range of courses being offered by a number of institutions, some consideration needs to be given to the disjointed terminology that makes it difficult for prospective students to easily identify which courses are comparable across service providers. A student seeking to do a BComm, for example, can easily identify which institutions offer this qualification and how it compares to other institutions offering the same qualification. The same needs to hold true for maritime-related qualifications.

Accountability to measurable outcomes and delivering solutions

Accountability is needed in order to address the non-collaborative space further and to turn the tide from talk shops to work shops. It has become easy to stand up and address issues publicly and even lament what is not working without committing to or providing workable solutions.

Delegates at conferences file out of the proceedings bemoaning the state of affairs in the industry, but simultaneously tick these events off as successes if they have managed to make a few good contacts that could further personal or organisational ambitions.

While Operation Phakisa provided a unique opportunity to create accountability measures in the industry – it has been highlighted that even an intervention initiated by the Presidency cannot ensure accountability.

Once again, however, there is no accurate picture of what true accountability looks like – only a snapshot of what the landscape looks like without it. It is time to define what accountability will entail and how this will translate to an improved situation for skills development.

The COVID spanner in the works

Last year’s Forward Thinking conference could not have predicted the rise of a virus that would keep us all isolated and force us to work from home. But it did forewarn us about the need to consider implementing technology and it did emphasise the need for greater collaboration.

Don’t sit back – find the answer as to HOW this can be achieved so that we can look back at commentary such as this as being outdated.

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