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Developing the country’s maritime human capital

Developing the country’s maritime human capital
Brenda V. Pimentel March 4, 2020

First of two parts

It has been seven years since I had a friend publish in her maritime magazine an article, which calls attention to the bias in maritime educational programs focused on responding to the demand for seafarers. The advocacy articulated in that article still finds relevance today in light of the expected slump in global employment opportunities due to Covid-19.

More than ever, the opportunities offered by the maritime industry needs to be highlighted as citizens of this archipelago are enjoined to defer foreign trips for tourist, educational or employment purposes. Excellent tourist sites and educational services and facilities abound in this archipelago; thus, could easily attract local tourists and students. The difficulty lies in providing alternative jobs to those who wish to stay.

Developing this archipelago’s maritime human capital — except probably in the seafaring sector — hardly receives attention if not completely ignored. We miss to harness the benefits offered by the sea, by the waters around the more than 7,000 islands of this country. Filipinos take pride in citing the archipelagic configuration of the Philippines; at times, even boasting of the country having a coastline longer than some developed maritime nations like the United States and Japan. Sadly, beyond such assertion, there is very little showing in the way we Filipinos think and act that we are indeed citizens of a maritime country.

Young Filipino students are introduced to the maritime attributes of the Philippines through school subjects, which discuss, in very limited way, the various bodies of water in the country and the resources found in them. The students hardly learn what the seas mean to them, their family, their community and their future. Some, especially those who live in coastal communities, have tangible ideas on what the seas can offer — a source of livelihood for their families and where fresh seafood is drawn, a place to swim and play, a means to reach the next island and a vantage point from where passing ships and boats can be viewed. On a much wider scale, the Filipino’s love for the sea revolves on purely recreational and amusement encounters.

The rise of the Filipino as a much sought-after seafarer brought new dimension to the Philippines as a maritime country. Where before Filipino seafarers were limited to manning Philippine-flagged ships plying domestic routes, now they sail on foreign-flagged ships navigating in all parts of the world. The phenomenal increase in the number of Filipinos who joined shipboard jobs correspondingly increased awareness of an alternative profession that is both challenging and rewarding.

Stories of success at sea spawned interest in building merchant marine careers for the young. Indeed, seafaring created a lot of other economic opportunities in allied fields such as manning, education and shipping as well as demand for governmental services. In the provinces, thatched tops in the community’s skyline has changed to concrete and steel roofs with TV antennae all over; and the once earthen streets were paved in concrete — thanks to the seafarers who helped bring about a vibrant economy to their localities.

The contribution of seafarers to the Philippine economy in the form of remittances, which help the country’s balance of payment and foreign exchange reserves, is continually acknowledged by the government and industry. Families of seafarers demonstrate how their lives were transformed with improved financial standing; thus enabling them to access good education and health facilities, build decent houses and enjoy the most basic needs of food and shelter. For some, it is seafaring which has lifted them out of poverty.

Who belongs to the maritime human resource?

A question comes to mind — why is it that other maritime activities do not receive such casual recognition as that of a shipboard career? Stevedoring, fishing, port operations and ship management, dockwork and shipbuilding and repairs underwater and ship surveying are just some maritime-related activities that scarcely receive sustained attention. The list of maritime undertakings could be long but, regrettably, awareness of these appear negligible compared with that of the seafaring sector.

The exceptionally high number of Filipino seafarers deployed in sea going merchant ships prompted stakeholders, both Government and industry, to pursue policies that will further the seafaring sector. Programs that sustain the ability of the Philippines to supply shipboard labor were adopted primarily focusing on, among others, enhancing seafarers’ competency and improving conditions of work onboard. Necessarily, such programs meant introducing aggressive information campaigns to attract young men and women into the merchant marine profession.

On the other hand, no such attention is given to those engaged in other maritime-related employment. For the most part, they are considered as members of the general stream of the labor force categorized as involved in management, technical or artisanal (skilled work) and not as maritime professionals or as belonging to the maritime human resource. These include, but are not limited to ,naval architects, welders, ship managers, port operators and dockworkers, multimodal operators and freight forwarders and government officials as well as employees of agencies charged with maritime functions.

Indeed, there is a long list of professionals and workers whose employment is suffused with maritime pursuits but who do not get the necessary recognition and support from the government and industry.