The Future of Learning, Skills and Work

file photo courtesy of Alan Jamieson
file photo courtesy of Alan Jamieson

Published Oct 1, 2019 8:44 PM by Julie Lithgow

The maritime industry is subject to constant change, whether in response to internal drivers or external impetus, and the pace of change is quickening. This might surprise those who regularly point out shipping’s “traditional” approach to business as usual, but there is no doubt the industry is faced with challenges that will require new strategy, tactics and skills.

Established businesses, whether broker, port agent or shipmanager, must take notice of the digitalization trend and absorb the impacts of sustainability, while at the same time maintaining and improving the core skills needed to keep world trade moving.

This evolution is happening at the end of a decade in which many companies have scaled down their expenditure on professional development for their staff. It seems entirely counter-intuitive that this should be happening just when a new raft of challenges is emerging, however it underlines the need for a focus on education.

It matters because the skillset demands of the maritime industry will change faster in future, even if the curricula taught by universities does not. Graduates joining the industry will be ahead of the curve on sustainability and digital; what they will require is significant additional education to understand how to apply them in the maritime world.

New Impetus

In order to properly prepare the workforce of the future, the maritime industry should think in terms of a strategic plan to map out how learning, skills and work will evolve and ensure it has the necessary human capital to respond.

The successful application of knowledge at sea and ashore requires innovation, new champions and entrepreneurs to shape it. We see some of these traits in shipping already but we also need to encourage the continuing development of the ‘everyday skills’ the industry requires.

In part because of the clamor around technology adoption, too few people recognize the importance of educating both leaders and workforce not just in terms of current business models but potential new ones too.

The scope, complexity and detail of the work that keeps the maritime world on track requires far more than just statements of intent. It needs education, training and mentoring, face to face and online, with practitioners sharing their experience and expertise.

Educational Disruption

At the same time as technology threatens to destabilise a generation of workers, something equally disruptive is going on in our higher educational institutions. In the drive to achieve sustainable profitability, there is a fundamental dislocation between what universities were traditionally for; centres that prize learning as an end in itself and what they have become; an environment that simply equips graduates for the job market.

Expectations have changed radically over the last two decades too, because students paying thousands of pounds in tuition fees expect "value" out of the process. Further education is a gamble and there is more and more pressure to make that gamble count.

But where graduates might once have enjoyed a premium on future earnings, that premium is shrinking. Experts think the earnings gap between those with degrees and those without will shrink further in part because of the higher numbers attending. 

After three or more years of study, the risk is that many students are left with little except debts and wages too low to compensate for them. This in turn fosters a disruptively competitive environment, undermining the intent of education in favour of metrics designed to evaluate "transferable skills."

Access to Excellence

The Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers is the global leader in professional education for commercial shore-based maritime job roles and our core focus is on the high standards required for our Professional Qualifying Examinations.

But we recognize that in addition to these foundational qualifications there is a need for a range of learning opportunities for further personal and professional development, designed to appeal to members and non-members. 

Reflecting the changes going on in the maritime industry, we are committed to being open and accessible to anyone who wants to build their knowledge and understanding of the maritime industry.

If the industry’s primary strategy continues to be outsourcing its professional training and education operations, then it needs to be confident that the shipping professionals it employs know more than one just end of a ship from the other.

In response, we are strengthening our links to the industry, offering companies the opportunity to leverage the Institute’s learning resources alongside their in-house training and development programs.

Too much at stake

To adapt the cliché of staff training and retention, we think the industry needs to consider what would happen to its operations and ultimately its profitability, if it fails to invest in the development of a generation of staff who then remain in post.

There is too much at stake to do nothing and by stepping up its activity, The Institute will provide the knowledge, resources and expertise that can help the industry develop the people it will need to embrace an era of transformation.

That has been our role in the century since we were awarded Royal Charter status, and we think a wider, more diverse audience is ready to benefit from that expertise. Whatever your job role or educational background, the Institute has accessible and affordable learning resources to suit you.

At the heart of The Institute’s seal is a beacon; we will continue to be a guiding light to students and industry professionals who want to increase their knowledge through learning and education, whatever direction their career takes them.


The Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers is partnering with Maritime London to host Maritime Leadership and the Near Horizon, a high-level forum to explore the industry’s capacity for education and learning and share best practice, to be held October 15-16, 2019 at the headquarters of the IMO, London. Further programme information and registration online is available at https://www.ics.org.uk/maritime-leadership

Julie Lithgow is Director at The Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.