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Training is the key for opening the door to women in shipping

Digitalisation and decarbonisation have altered shipping’s horizon and have offered a route for women to enter the industry, filling a growing skills gap and changing the cultural norms of an industry that heavily leans towards male-dominated values.

From digitalised support systems onshore to chief engineers and masters, working women will be involved in a maritime sector that the industry anticipates will be short of 89,510 skilled officers by 2026, according to International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and BIMCO estimates.

Attracting new workers to the industry is essential, but training must also be available to educate new and existing workers on the technological changes, including digital tech and the series of new fuels that will all need different handling techniques to manage them.

Recruiting women is critical in this situation, according to Mariana Noceti, IMO’s Principal Programme Assistant of the Women in Maritime (WIM) Programme, who said that women represent 51% of the world’s population, but only 2% of the seafarer work force.

Noceti pointed out, “The industry’s move towards digitalisation and automation will lead to the creation of new careers in shipping, and the need for seafarer retraining and reskilling to adapt to new requirements, which presents a wonderful opportunity for the inclusion of people with non-traditional backgrounds in the seafaring profession.”

Training is the key that would unlock the door for many to enter the industry and Siren Berge, Chief Technology Officer at training company Mintra, believes that developing the necessary courses now is important to meet the rapid changes that shipping is undergoing.

“We are at a critical junction where the training technology exists, but the task is vast. The Maritime Just Transition Task Force has identified that up to 800,000 seafarers may require additional training by the mid-2030s to handle zero-carbon fuels and the shift in digitalisation and decarbonisation,” she stated.

Training programmes have already changed according to Berge, who said, “I know that maritime training is ready and able to evolve at the fast pace required to meet these needs. However, it will require the industry to move away from traditional practice-oriented training to new ways of delivering training, such as simulator training, digital training and learning in the flow of work.”

“There is a need to pave the way for a work environment that embraces diversity and equality,” explained Berge, “Many companies have started changing their policies, changing recruitment processes and encouraging women to apply.”

If Berge is correct, then there will need to be a major cultural shift in the industry, not just at sea but onshore too.

It is a theme that Namrata Nadkarni, CEO of Intent maritime public relations company takes up readily: “We need buy in from men to have more women as part of the mix. This buy in can then impact how we recruit, what working environments are like, what retention efforts can be put in place and a lot more.”

A recent study of Chinese women in maritime, published by Wenyu Lyu and Lianbo Li of Dalian Maritime University, called “Sailing into rough seas: The difficulties and challenges Chinese women seafarers face”, identifies five major challenges faced by women in maritime.

They included limited access to vocational education and training; employment difficulties because of stereotypes; prejudices and sexual distinction; safety and healthcare concerns; bullying, abuse and sexual harassment; as well as traditional ideas of family and childbirth.

According to Nadkarni, training in maritime is too often a “tick-box exercise” with the emphasis placed on the individual to complete the training.

She believes, “What we actually need are policies across companies that create a culture of inclusion. This could be in the form of quotas that ensure that there is a good gender balance - in fact, there is a diversity@sea pilot programme where vessels have at least four women onboard a ship including a senior member of the team, and I think this is a great idea.”

“Employers,” said Nadkarni, “have to stop treating workers like cost centres. We are human beings with diverse body shapes, brain patterns and ways of problem solving and it would be best to have a mixture of people that bring their best efforts to the team.”


Mary Ann Evans
Correspondent at Large





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