July 28, 2021

A paradigm shift in the development of skills for the oceans economy

Skills development has been identified as one of the key contributors to the growth of the oceans economy. The oceans economy can generally be described as the sum of the economic activities of ocean-based industries, including goods and services as well as assets of marine ecosystems. In an effort to unlock the economic potential of the country’s oceans economy, the South African government launched the Operation Phakisa (Oceans Economy) programme in 2014, based on the Malaysian Big Fast Results (BFR) methodology.

Skills development has been identified as one of the key contributors to the growth of the oceans economy. The oceans economy can generally be described as the sum of the economic activities of ocean-based industries, including goods and services as well as assets of marine ecosystems. In an effort to unlock the economic potential of the country’s oceans economy, the South African government launched the Operation Phakisa (Oceans Economy) programme in 2014, based on the Malaysian Big Fast Results (BFR) methodology. 

The focus on the oceans economy resulted from a study on the potential of South Africa’s oceans economy conducted by the Department of Environmental Affairs in 2013, which showed that the sector could potentially contribute as much as R177-billion to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country, and create up to 1 million jobs over a period of 20 years. Six focus areas were identified, namely, Aquaculture, Coastal and Marine Tourism, Marine Transport and Manufacturing, Marine Protection and Ocean Governance, Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration, and Small Harbour Development. 

Skills development and capacity building, as well as research and innovation, were identified as key enablers cutting across the different focus areas of the oceans economy. Operation Phakisa therefore outlined a number of initiatives aimed at developing skills and capacity with a view to develop a skilled workforce and capacity to produce those skills for the sector.  The South Africa International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) was established as a direct outcome of Operation Phakisa in 2014 to integrate existing pockets of excellence in the maritime industry and ensure coordination of maritime skills development and capacity building initiatives. The focus areas of SAIMI are advocacy, skills development and capacity building, as well as research and innovation. 

Various skills development initiatives have been implemented by SAIMI in partnership with many stakeholders in the sector including government, SETAs, academic institutions, TVET colleges, maritime high schools, and industry. Strengthening partnerships with industry remains critical for SAIMI in the implementation of skills development initiatives, as this will enable the institute to better understand industry skills requirements to ensure that the skills produced meet the industry requirements. Partnerships with industry also open up opportunities for work placement and absorption, as well as assist in the development of required qualifications and short learning programmes. These play a vital role in providing access to the sector as well as the upskilling and reskilling of the existing workforce to meet the future demands of the sector.  

Through various initiatives identified, Operation Phakisa acknowledges the importance of technical and vocational training in preparing the youth with practical skills for a specific job or self-employment. A collaboration between SAIMI and the SA College Principals Organisation aimed at increasing the participation of TVET colleges in the maritime sector therefore has been initiated, with a multi-stakeholder task team being formulated to drive the process. The initiative focuses on the development of maritime qualifications and building capacity to offer those qualifications for both inland and coastal TVET colleges. Capacity building entails infrastructure as well as lecturer development initiatives. The process also aims to tap into the Centres of Specialisation programme implemented at various TVET colleges by the Department of Higher Education and Training, which is premised on a dual-training model characterised by a strong partnership between the TVET colleges, industry and SETAs. 

There had been various key drivers of change in a number of industries recently, including technological advancements which have emphasised the need for the identification of skills and training required to adapt to this changing technological environment. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has brought about what has been referred to as a “digital disruption” which has required various industries to adapt. The maritime industry has seen, amongst other things, the development of smart ports and discussions on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS). These autonomous vessels will be operated with reduced manning or be unmanned; with remote monitoring/operation or be fully autonomous. Traditional models of training, recruiting, retaining talent, as well as the way of doing business need to change to remain relevant to the needs of 4IR.  

Skills development is an important enabler in ensuring industry’s readiness for these technological advancements, and the identification of the future maritime skills needs is key. Critical future 4IR competencies identified by the World Maritime University include data analysis, automation, cybersecurity, computer programming, simulation, and robotics.  SAIMI, as part of its research and innovation directive, has established a Marine Robotics centre in partnership with Nelson Mandela University, and a partnership with the University of Cape Town is in the process of being finalised. In respect of the potential impact of 4IR on employment, it has been projected that although it is likely that there may be redundancies, a distinction needs to be made between the role of the human and the role of the system among the various system functions - a link with human element therefore will still be required.  

Another driver of change in the various industries including the oceans economy has been the impact of Covid-19 in that it has resulted in a new norm in the world of work, with some economic activities completed virtually and a part of the workforce having to work from home. Maritime Education and Training was also adversely affected as skills development activities were halted resulting in a review of programme timeframes, extension of academic calendars, and the implementation of multi-modal teaching and learning.  This entailed the review of traditional training methods and implementation of blended learning, which required the availability of devices and data/wi-fi for learners and teachers/lecturers, with delays in the procurement of these presenting a challenge. Workplace training was also affected with social distancing rules requiring a lesser number of employees in the workplace.  Limitations in movement of vessels globally and air travel affected the sea-time training component for seafarers.  

The industry and academic institutions also implemented comprehensive Covid-19 plans covering cleaning and disinfecting of facilities, procurement of Personal Protective Equipment, screening, social distancing, training on all Covid-19 aspects, as well as recovery plans expected to contribute to the economic recovery plans of the country. As part of its advocacy efforts, SAIMI recently hosted a webinar which included a discussion on “Further unlocking of oceans economy growth: The role of the Oceans Economy in the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan”, where the importance of attracting more business into our shores, including a cohesive marketing strategy to bring more ships into the country, was emphasised. This would also assist in creating more workplace training and employment opportunities for the youth, as well as entrepreneurial opportunities. Taking advantage of opportunities arising from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is expected to contribute to the growth of the sector and the economy at large.  

Funding for skills development initiatives still remains a challenge. SAIMI, which is fully funded by the National Skills Fund (NSF), and SETAs have played a pivotal role in funding maritime skills development initiatives. Industry as well as various government departments and agencies have invested funds in skills development initiatives - both for their own needs as well as the needs of the market. This, however, has not been enough to cover the maritime education and training needs of the country. There is a need to create a pool of funds amongst different stakeholders to expand the reach of skills development initiatives in South Africa, and Africa.  

In light of the various developments that have taken place in the maritime industry as a result of the many drivers of change, education and training policies need to also adapt. The utilisation of Simulator Training as part of sea-time training for seafarers, for instance, has been proposed and this needs to be included as part of the education and training framework. The lead-time in formulating and implementing policies and training, however, could result in a shortfall in future skills required. The proposed interventions need to start at basic education level, that is, increased access to technology or computers and a greater focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. 

Maritime awareness is also key, with a view of increasing throughput and reducing dropout rates at tertiary education level. SAIMI has launched a Maritime Awareness Programme which is aimed at creating awareness about the oceans economy as well as its role in addressing the socio-economic challenges facing the country. The programme is targeted at people from previously disadvantaged communities, learners, entrepreneurs, employees, SMME’s, unemployed youth and women. In February 2021, SAIMI launched a zero-rated website (www.divein.co.za) to introduce South Africa’s youth to a multitude of choices related to a career in the oceans economy. 

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