Transparency in Shipping’s Digital Age
Digitalization may prove one of the maritime industry’s most effective tools to face multiple challenges posed by decarbonization, recruitment and even diversity.
As co-CEO of leading satellite communications and digital solutions provider Tototheo Maritime, Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou knows all about the impact connectivity has on commercial ship efficiency, but her mind is also constantly probing for links between progressive technology and Environmental, Social and Governance concerns.
“New technologies and digitalization are there to help us achieve our goals, but it is important to remember that they are not the solution in themselves,” she says. “The focus should be on how technology is used and the benefits or opportunities it can offer.”
In shipping, the fear of job losses can often top the agenda when new technologies are introduced, “without having a parallel discussion about the new jobs and opportunities,” observes Theodosiou. “However, while digitalization is bringing about fundamental changes within our industry, ships are extremely complex machines and digitalization will not change that. Instead, it provides potential to enhance the operation and management of assets while also creating a range of new roles.”
Seafarers in transition
Inmarsat recently reported a 70 percent increase in data usage by ships over a 12-month period, with around 70-80 percent of current consumption attributable to seafarers. This is a measure of changing expectations of the life at sea, says Theodosiou, but also an indicator that seafarers are ready and willing to engage with technology, rather than resistant to having it imposed upon them.
That engagement could easily focus on the digitalization and data-driven decision-making that optimizes ship sustainability and allows shipowners to lead on ESG, rather than being portrayed as only responding when regulation demands it, or under pressure from society or investors.
“Digital solutions that monitor, report and advise on sustainability in a transparent way are also likely to attract the next generation of tech-savvy, environmentally aware talent with the skills needed to drive the industry forward evidence that ESG is in hand,” she comments.
Theodosiou is the current President of WISTA International and has first-hand experience of how digitalization is helping to level the playing field for men and women as employees. “Shipping’s digital transformation is creating a wide range of new roles where both men and women have the opportunity to succeed. I am not saying that there is any motivation for reducing our campaign for gender equality in maritime; what I am saying is the skillsets and experience required for shipping’s Digital Age are also transparently gender neutral. The same goes for ethnicity.”
Social mobility in maritime
Based on generational progression in IT literacy, future seafarers and shore-based personnel are likely to have more transferrable skillsets, creating more opportunities for mobility in an industry which thinks of itself as global but often provides limited scope for progression.
“Shipping is not homogenous; it is a complex and often fragmented industry. It will always provide plenty of opportunities for specialists, but a digitalized and data-driven approach can create the kind of transparency that attracts the best talent to support a growing part of our industry’s needs," she says.
Far from resisting, the talent of tomorrow will also expect higher levels of automation. “We expect to see a newly engaged shipping industry as the role of the asset operator becomes more crucial, and that will also involve using technology to automate some functions, processes or even roles that are mundane,” Theodosiou says. “Digitalization will create a new kind of crew, that has a more rounded view of a vessel’s operational profile, a crew that is engaged with digital technologies when performing their roles.”
If digitalization is shaping the future of maritime employment, Theodosiou also believes action is needed to support its usefulness to shipping personnel today.
The 2019 World Maritime University report Transport 2040: Automation, Technology, Employment – The Future if Work highlighted how automation would drive the emergence of new skillsets. However, one of its key takeaways was to emphasize the need for education and training among existing workers - to ensure they can up-skill as new technologies are introduced.
“We need to be discussing this constantly,” says Theodosiou. “The actual evolution of shipping is a good thing, and we need to make sure our workforce retrains continuously and has the tools needed to be part of the transition; otherwise, we may fail.”
Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou is the President of WISTA International and co-CEO of satcom provider Tototheo Maritime.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.