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UK officer training study finds ‘deeply concerning’ deficiencies

Research finds a lack of training for alternative fuels and circularity, as well as mental health and wellbeing

Training for future skills, knowledge and the gaining of experience will take years

MARITIME training strategies in the UK are not currently fit for future challenges, according to research.

The study revealed that 32 participants from across the maritime industry are “deeply concerned” about many training deficiencies.

Their view was that training should consist of autonomous technology, digitisation, alternative fuels and propulsion systems, circularity, strength in leadership, resilience and mentoring.

But these critical elements are lacking, as are human-centric concerns such as a better coordinated cadet training pipeline, mental health and wellbeing, welfare and a safe working environment.

The academic research conducted last year by Gordon Foot, a Merchant Navy officer and Fellow of the Nautical Institute, revealed that the present maritime professional is not considered adequately trained to meet the challenges of the future.

Current training is outdated and remains slow to react to the known future technology, said Mr Foot.

His study agrees with other assessments of the global maritime industry, including an Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology survey of 700 seafarers that found the lack of competent mariners with skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics will be the greatest challenge facing shipping in the future.

Asked to identify which challenge would have the biggest impact on the future professional mariner, Mr Foot’s respondents highlighted training, skills and competence together with seafarer mental health and wellbeing. These were followed by the seafarer conditions of service and retention, and digitalisation.

On whether the UK strategy for maritime training was sufficient to support future maritime operations, 52% either disagreed or disagreed strongly, compared with 20% who agreed or agreed strongly.

Anonymous comments supporting these two questions criticised the cadet syllabus for being “dangerously out of date” and called for a “complete overhaul of maritime training and governance” to facilitate the required changes. However, another noted that a top-to-bottom overhaul of UK officer training is taking place.

A broad complaint was that there are not enough berths for cadets undergoing training, insufficient support for female cadets, and a lack of jobs for UK cadets on graduation.

The UK “should have career pathways into a range of maritime professional roles” clearly signposted for school leavers, college students, and adults wishing to transfer jobs, to encourage awareness and interest in the sector — including shore-based roles, opined another.

Survey respondents said there might be too much attention focused on fixing short-term problems without fully considering the huge technological changes coming to shipping by 2035 or 2040. There was agreement that there is no simple solution to the issues addressed by this survey, which are partly the result of shipping being “neglected” for far too long.

Mr Foot concludes that the research results clearly show training deficiencies based on “leadership’s inability to deliver a strategy that achieves the required aims and… within envisioned time frames”. 

Training for future skills, knowledge, and the gaining of experience does not happen in months, he noted. It takes years, as part of multiple stakeholders’ co-ordinated actions.

“It is apparent that the UK Merchant Navy training is not leading but seriously lagging within its stated aims.”

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