Future Maritime Leaders see talent of the future as essential to ensuring a digitalized, greener, and more resilient maritime industry by 2050

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When asked about their visions for the maritime sector in 2050 and what concrete actions we need to take within the next five years to make it a reality, the next generation of maritime leaders point towards putting the talent of the future at the center of attention for the maritime industry to achieve ambitions in other areas.

In April this year, the third annual Future Maritime Leaders essay competition launched and by May, 116 participants submitted their vision for the maritime sector in 2050. Of these, 22 countries from five continents were represented.

The majority of submissions came from Asia with the main contributors originating from the Philippines, India, and Malaysia. As with the previous years, the competition represents a multifaceted pool of ideas and concrete actions for the future of the maritime industry, by participants with diverse educational and professional backgrounds in and around the maritime sector.

Levers for change in the industry

The maritime industry will go through huge changes over the coming decades as it adapts and responds to societal demands and pressures. In addressing structural challenges like climate change it is likely that we will see an entirely new industry in 30 years from the one that we see today. To truly succeed in maintaining its viability in the run up to 2050, submissions emphasized that the industry should focus on tackling a number of structural challenges.

Figure 1: Submissions by continent (Future Maritime Leaders essay competition 2021)

Figure 1: Submissions by continent (Future Maritime Leaders essay competition 2021)

Top essays especially highlighted this through discussing the relationship between the adoption of new technologies and the future of the industry’s workforce. In addition to this, several additional key topics emerged, with many essays addressing more than one of these thematic angles, highlighting the synergistic relationships between them.

Figure 2: Submissions by theme (Future Maritime Leaders essay competition 2021)

Figure 2: Submissions by theme (Future Maritime Leaders essay competition 2021)

Digitalization as main driver for a resilient industry in the future

Of the submissions, the future of digitalization was the most highlighted area which participants saw as a central component of a productive and resilient maritime industry in 2050. In seeking to benefit from these rapid technological advancements, a key concern for participants was the need for the industry to focus on training its workforce and to keep up with the pace of the digital revolution.

Online learning platforms, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality were seen to not only ensure better training for seafarers but also make the maritime work environment safer. A handful of essays exemplified this by pointing towards how we can learn from other industries such as the aviation sector, who are using virtual reality to simulate emergency situations where fast responses to potential threats is vital.

Others stressed the upsides of migrating control centers to cloud-based services and platforms to enable big data analytics and machine learning for decision making to mitigate risks onboard ships. In some instances, blockchain technology was deemed the answer to revolutionizing communication and data sharing, enhancing the industry’s ability to coordinate in other areas.

Although the consensus around the opportunities of digitalization was tangible, some essays issued a warning as to the potential threats this might bring. One essay, for example, drew upon Covid-19 to exemplify how rapidly cyberattacks infest systems, and how this can have severe consequences for the people onboard the ships if the operation is heavily reliant on digital solutions, creating a need to also ensure resilience through focusing on cybersecurity.

Skilled and passionate seafarers are needed to solve future challenges

In addition to the prospect of rapid digital changes affecting the maritime industry, the need to safeguard the wellbeing of employees ‘on the ground’ was among the most discussed topics. Being the acting people in the field, essays saw seafarers as playing a crucial role on the frontlines of the changes that the sector will experience over the coming decades.

Participants observed how this gives seafarers a vital, yet often unrecognized, role as key players in the transition to, for example, new digital or zero emission technologies, with their training and treatment a prerequisite for their adoption. Many entries discussed this through presenting how the need for increasingly specialized and highly skilled seafarers would continue to grow as the maritime industry seeks to make progress in other areas.

One key issue highlighted was the challenges associated with retaining this emerging talent due to the many examples of poor labor standards at sea. Examples were given of difficult working conditions, operating under various jurisdictions, encountering unlawful employment, and navigating violations of basic human rights. A number of essays called for a global legal framework to safeguard seafarers and encourage a more just and inclusive attitude towards them.

Many of the essays expressed this need through sharing personal stories of life at sea, underscoring the need to understand the motivations of the current generation of seafarers and for generations to come. One entry addressed how it is of great importance to educate seafarers on how to confront issues related to discrimination when looking to retain a highly skilled workforce.

By prioritizing a more conscious approach to understanding seafarers’ experiences, it was argued that if the industry can ensure that it retains a diverse, inclusive, and highly skilled workforce, then it will be more capable of solving the wider challenges that the maritime industry is facing.

Decarbonization and sustainability on the youth agenda for 2050

As in previous competitions, one of the key concerns of participants was to maintain momentum for decarbonizing the maritime industry. Several essays stressed the need to decarbonize shipping in line with the Paris Agreement, highlighting several actions needed to achieve this.

Essays addressed areas such as the need to coordinate investments in zero emission pilot and demonstration projects to truly unlock the green transition. Others highlighted the importance of an increasing adoption of net zero targets as a way to ensure that long terms strategies are developed by companies and organizations. These essays looked beyond initial solutions, also looking towards the long-term certainty and scaling needed for zero emission fuels to truly penetrate the market.

Some argued that for the transition to happen, it should be supported by regulation and legislation such as carbon taxation and transparency reporting to catalyze much needed change within the maritime industry. This transition will only be achieved, writes one participant, when this incentive is effectively shared across the value chain, by shipowners, financiers, cargo owners, consumers, and regulatory organizations.

Driving the industry forward with the talent of the future

From reading the huge range of proposals and ambitions that young people are calling for by 2050, it is clear that there is a strong desire for the maritime industry to consider how it can best leverage this talent and passion moving forward. This is particularly poignant, since many of this year’s entrants are experiencing these processes firsthand as seafarers, having written their essays from onboard the vessels that they are currently working on.

For many, the competition invited a re-imagining of their future life at sea, considering how they might contribute towards the wider changes that the industry is undergoing. This serves as an acute reminder of the importance of the human drivers of change, which this year’s leaders see as essential for the maritime industry to ensure its vibrancy and resilience for the decades to come.

Disclaimer: We would like to thank all the future maritime leaders who participated in the competition. This article is based on a content synthesis of 116 submitted and qualified essays and does not reflect the view of any one essay author. The data on submissions by region is approximate and based on the participants’ submitted information. The content of this article is the sole responsibility of the authors.