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Keeping up with a rapidly evolving maritime labour market
A foresight study conducted by the Generation BALT project identifies promising segments of the maritime sector with respect to future development prospects.

By Jan  Fidler, co-ordinator of the South Baltic project Generation Balt

The maritime sector is an important driver of the present and future economy of the South Baltic Sea Region and is of great significance for employment in coastal regions. But despite the meaningful opportunities, this region also has to cope with severe challenges. The increasing utilisation of this ecologically vulnerable area requires common regulations and management for sea and land based activities. Further challenges result from the globalisation of markets and the consequences of global warming, for example concerning coastal protection or the use of renewable energy sources. In parallel, innovative technologies are rapidly evolving and new maritime related fields are emerging (e.g. blue biotechnology). All these factors result in a rapidly changing maritime sector, which in turn has consequences for the labour market and its educational requirements.

Experts have suggested that present educational programmes around the South Baltic Region (SBR) are often too narrowly specialised and miss the interdisciplinary approach needed to solve complex tasks. Based on the perception that despite the need for highly qualified personnel, many graduates of maritime careers face unemployment or work in non-maritime related jobs after their studies, the Generation BALT project aims to improve higher education in the region to better match the supply and demand of the labour force in the maritime sector.

Educational programmes preparing for jobs in the changing maritime sector should be future-oriented. Thus, as a first step, Generation BALT set out to conduct a forecast of the maritime labour market in the South Baltic Region with a horizon of 2017. This Foresight Study identifies promising segments of the maritime sector with respect to future development prospects and labour force needs as well as desired skills. It provides analyses of both the labour markets and the educational offers and identifies gaps in maritime related studies.

Forecasting the future of the region’s maritime sector

While analysis of the maritime labour market and the professional expertise of the maritime workforce across South Baltic regions showed comparable results, some important differences were detected in the study. The area of offshore wind energy is seen as the unquestioned leader in terms of expected future development and workforce demand. This is followed by segments relying heavily on innovation: offshore supply, exploration and exploitation of the seabed or generally innovative maritime industries.

The development of these sectors will result to some extent from changes in international law, especially regarding environmental issues. The need to adjust our technological solutions to new regulations is expected to generate high workforce demand. Similarly, the implementation of EU regulations on local and regional scales and conditions will create workforce demand, especially within highly qualified maritime experts. Although an immediate effect on employment is not anticipated, changes in the law could subsequently trigger the development of other segments and as a result influence the labour market.

The labour market analysis shows that the maritime sector in the SBR is far from cohesive. All countries differ in terms of strategic segments, maritime policies and level of development. These dissimilarities translate into slightly different assessments of the particular maritime segments. Although offshore wind energy, seaports and logistics, exploration and exploitation of the seabed, offshore supply and other innovative industries ranked highly in all regions, in almost every region there is at least one unique segment expected to create high workforce demand. For example, in Germany offshore wind energy tops the list in terms of expected growth while seaports and logistics are not considered as promising relative to the rest of the region; Sweden was the only region to recognise the importance of law adjustment concerning maritime areas; in Poland experts expect maritime and coastal tourism to provide a substantial number of job offers in the close future; the watercraft industry is one of the most promising segments in Lithuania; the Kaliningrad region maintains a role as a major Baltic Sea fishing centre and a hub for training in general fisheries and fishing technology.

This regional diversity is a positive phenomenon that can bring a lot of profits from the economic point of view. The future of the maritime sector in the region does not depend on the single most promising segment, but on the large palette of diverse maritime activities. While underlining the international character of the Baltic Sea and emphasising the need for cohesive and consistent political strategies across the whole region, it is necessary to support the regions’ development in a way that promotes a diversified breadth of maritime economic activities. Diversification is the only way to improve SBR competitiveness at the international level and can be an efficient tool in critical situations, including the ongoing global economic crisis. Although this crisis has had a strong negative impact on the SBR maritime labour market, it also served as a trigger for structural changes that resulted in increased competitiveness in the region. Restructuration can also result in an increased workforce demand in the newly emerged maritime segments and in those maritime industries that have successfully adjusted to the new economic situation. Despite the crisis and the difficult situation of some of the maritime segments (e.g. watercraft industry), according to the results of the foresight study the future of the maritime sector as a whole can be considered as optimistic.

Linking maritime education with the changing job market

Maritime educational offers in the SBR are diversified but do not entirely cover the needs of the labour market. This misalignment is especially noticeable when it comes to innovative technologies, innovative solutions within existing industries and legislative aspects of maritime activities.

The strategy of making the educational offers complementary to the labour market should involve not only new courses and fields of study, but also restructuration of existing ones to make them a better fit to the present and future market demands. Since the maritime sector is changing its profile from mass production towards specialisation, high technology and innovation, the educational offers should respond to these changes. A strategy of innovation, individualised and interdisciplinary approaches, and internationalisation is proposed in the study, including recommendations for students, teachers and educational authorities, and business units.

The findings and recommendations that surfaced from this study are now being used by Generation BALT to develop and implement a Maritime Training Programme around academic institutions around the South Baltic Region.

Link to the foresight study:

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