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Maritime stakeholders: 4IR repositions shipboard jobs, competencies

Maritime stakeholders: 4IR repositions shipboard jobs, competencies
YASHIKA F. TORIB October 9, 2019

English proficiency and skill competencies based on the Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping Convention (STCW) are no longer enough to secure a job at sea, especially with the advent of automated ships that threaten to remove human workers onboard vessels.

This was confirmed by manning, shipping, and maritime education and training leaders during the Seafarers Convention (SEACON) 2019, a maritime conference, job fair, and business expo that bring together all maritime stakeholders, industry leaders, and seafarers.

Former Maritime Industry Authority ( ) administrator C/E Marcial Amaro emphasized how the outdated modes of education and training in the maritime sector made Filipino seafarers less competitive in the age of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a period characterized by automation and artificial intelligence.

“Shipping now has automated vessels but our education is still on the same level as before — same manuals and books that are published in the 70s featuring mechanisms that are long gone. Does that make Filipino seafarers competitive with the rest of the world? Competency is not enough,” Amaro said.

With the looming threats of automation on shipboard job security, Gerardo Borromeo, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Philippine Transmarine Carriers (PTC), suggested that seafarers should focus on a ‘job at shipping’ instead of simply a ‘job on a ship’.

“(The manning sector) will have to reposition jobs based on a seafarer’s individual skills and capabilities,” he said, indicating that automation does not necessarily displace labor from the industry, but merely shifts the occupational chain to a shore-based job backed by technology. This responds to recruitment needs that have become more complex; manning agents will need to be in a position to understand and evaluate the competencies possessed by seafarers to source the ever changing demands of the industry.

“We have to adapt and move forward instead of feeling threatened by technology and innovation,” he added.

This was backed by Michael Esplago, Regional Manager of TERP, a technological provider of customized educational and training materials that promotes digital learning in various industries. He drew attention to the instinctive distress of people when faced with technological innovations, an approach that negates adaptability in an industry that evolves in unprecedented pace.

“Technology in the maritime industry should always be about evolution, it should not be a threat to the human capital. We should create a technology that helps human adapt and assist our students to learn better. Our industry should bring 4I closer to the people, to humanize innovation and take advantage of it,” he said.

“Technology should not be a threat as it makes things easier,” affirmed Karen Avelino, president of the Philippine Association of Maritime Training Centers, Inc. (PAMTCI). “It does not completely take people out of ship operations and we can easily adapt; we only have to improve our system to aid this,” she said in reference to maritime education that is slowly adapting to the requirements of the industry.

“Our academics and trainings are now a mix of the traditional and technological learnings; it now includes a lot of subjects to prepare our seafarers for the future. We should include, though, robotics and artificial intelligence in our educational system,” she explained.

Avelino further stressed that while several nations are now in close competition in supplying the workforce in international shipping, the Filipinos remain to be preferred and has not “really fallen down” the list.

“We have to maintain our edge by working together in this time of innovation,” she said.

“We have to do what we fear most — change. From there, we need to keep moving forward and prepare for the future,” says Esplago.

The maritime conference was also attended by some of the biggest names in the maritime education and training sector like Vice Admiral Eduardo Ma. Santos, president of the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP), Capt. Joel Abutal, superintendent of the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy (PMMA), Glenn Mark Blasquez, president of Southern Institute of Maritime Studies (SIMS). Also in attendance was Vice Admiral Narciso Vingzon Jr., OIC administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina).