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Addressing the Skills Gap in the Maritime Industry through Advanced Training Solutions

Updated: Apr 24

The maritime sector's skills gap is a multifaceted issue, influenced by rapid technological changes, environmental regulations, and the increasing need for digital literacy alongside traditional seafaring skills.


As the industry moves towards more sustainable and technologically integrated operations, the demand for personnel proficient in digital technologies, environmental management, and compliance with international regulations has escalated. The International Chamber of Shipping Seafarer Workforce Report of 2021 predicted a need for an additional 89,510 officers by 2026. (1)


In addition, the trend of experienced seafarers and potential leadership candidates retiring in increasing numbers since 2020 compounds the challenge, not only creating vacancies but also draining the industry of invaluable knowledge and expertise. In response, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) emphasises the critical need for enhanced training and education, spotlighting the importance of preparing a new generation of skilled workers to sustain the industry's growth.


Skills in High Demand

1. Deck Officers: The industry seeks qualified deck officers, including navigators, captains, and chief mates, who require extensive training, sea experience, and specialised certifications.

2. Marine Engineers: There is a short supply of skilled marine engineers, particularly chief engineers and second engineers, whose expertise is vital for the maintenance and operation of complex machinery and systems aboard ships.

3. Electro-Technical Officers: With ships becoming increasingly automated and digitalised, there is a high demand for officers skilled in managing and maintaining electrical, electronic, and control systems.

4. Specialised Roles: Seafarers with specialised skills in liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargo handling, dynamic positioning, offshore support vessel operations, and subsea operations are increasingly sought after.

5. Digital and Technological Skills: As new technologies such as automation, digitalisation, and data analytics are embraced, there is a growing need for seafarers proficient in cyber security, data analysis, and advanced maritime technologies.

6. Leadership and Management Skills: The industry requires individuals with strong leadership and management abilities, especially for senior officer positions and shore-based management roles, to navigate challenges in crew management, regulatory compliance, and operational efficiency.

7. Environmental and Sustainability Skills: Skills related to energy efficiency, emission control, and environmental management are becoming increasingly valuable as the focus on environmental regulations and sustainable shipping practices grows.


Bridging the Skills Gap with Advanced Training Solutions

Advanced training solutions, such as VR and Online Learning, provide innovative approaches to address the maritime industry's skills gap. These platforms offer flexible, accessible, and immersive learning experiences that replicate real-life scenarios, making them an ideal training solution:


1. Online Learning Platforms: Online Learning provides flexible access to a wide range of courses and resources, enabling continuous learning and professional development providing and reaffirming the underpinning knowledge required. These platforms can adapt to individual learning paces and styles, ensuring that each learner acquires the necessary skills and knowledge.


Kilo Ship Handling Online Learning Course How Bow thrusters Work
Kilo Ship Handling Online Learning Course

2. Virtual Reality (VR) Training: VR simulates real-world environments and scenarios, for example for deck officers, it can provide realistic bridge operations, navigation exercises, and emergency situations, allowing trainees to practice decision-making, communication, and problem-solving skills in a safe virtual environment. This hands-on approach enhances learning retention , tests underpinning knowledge and prepares seafarers for the complexities of modern maritime operations. Uniquely, this can be achieved at individual and team level.


Student wearing a VR headset in a VASCO session case on a screen
Student immersed in a VASCO session


Implementing VR and Online Learning: Challenges and Strategies

Adopting VR and Online Learning in maritime training presents several challenges, yet strategic approaches can pave the way for successful implementation.


Challenges

- Technological Infrastructure: Access to high-speed internet and modern hardware is crucial but not universally available, potentially limiting access to these advanced training tools.

- Resistance to Change: The maritime sector's traditional training practices may lead to hesitation towards new digital methods, necessitating demonstrations of their benefits.

- Cost Considerations: Initial setup and maintenance of VR and Online Learning platforms can be expensive, posing a barrier for smaller entities.

- Training for Instructors: Effective use of digital training solutions requires educators to be trained, adding another layer of investment.

- Regulatory Approval: Ensuring digital training methods are recognised by maritime regulatory bodies is essential but can be complex.


Strategies

To navigate these challenges, a multifaceted approach is needed:

- Infrastructure Investment: Prioritising investments in the necessary technological infrastructure is key as contemporary technologies can now offer significant levels of efficacy and ROI

- Change Management: Implementing pilot programmes and showcasing successful case studies can help overcome resistance by highlighting the effectiveness and benefits of VR and Online Learning.

- Cost-Benefit Analysis: Demonstrating long-term savings and improved learning outcomes can justify the initial investment.

- Educator Training: Investing in professional development for instructors ensures they can effectively incorporate digital tools into their coaching and mentor practices.

- Engagement with Regulators: Collaborating with regulatory bodies from the outset can smooth the path for recognition and integration of digital training methods into certified programmes.

- Challenge the Status Quo: Innovation should be embraced and next generational thinking will be aligned with the expectations of today and tomorrow’s seafarers, and will inherently appeal to all.


Case Study: Super Yacht Management Organisation and Innovative Training Solutions

Challenge:

The Super Yacht Management Organisation were committed to the enhancement of their Navigational Teams' competence in Collision Regulations (ColRegs) and Bridge Resource Management (BRM) amidst increasing operational demands and limited access to traditional training environments.


Solution:

Kilo Solutions implemented an innovative VR training program using the VASCO virtual bridge environment and expertise from Master Mariner instructors, focusing on the practical knowledge application through coaching and mentoring.


Implementation Highlights

- Online Learning: Over 50 deck personnel accessed foundational and underpinning knowledge via a 24/7 learning management system.

- Practical VR Sessions: Participants were scheduled to attend 4 x VR sessions within the VASCO Virtual Bridge environment, in the lead up to rejoining their vessels, applying knowledge in ColRegs and BRM that mirrored real-life challenges, ensuring all personnel were thoroughly upskilled and ready for sea

- Universal Access: The program was accessible globally through an untethered Meta Quest 2 headset, enabling participation from any geographical location with Wi-Fi or mobile data.


Outstanding Results

-> 72% Reduction in Training Spend:

The shift to VR resulted in substantial cost savings, underscoring the program's economic efficiency.

-> 60% Increase in Staff Availability:

VR training significantly reduced the downtime associated with traditional training methods, enhancing operational flexibility.

-> 98% Performance Improvement:

A dramatic uplift in skill application and knowledge retention demonstrated the effectiveness of immersive learning.

-> 84.7% Seafarer Satisfaction:

The innovative approach to training received high approval from participants, reflecting its relevance and engagement.

-> 100% Workforce Accessibility:

The program achieved total accessibility, ensuring every seafarer had the opportunity to enhance their skills, regardless of location.


Innovating to Meet the Needs

The journey towards addressing the skills gap in the maritime industry is both complex and imperative. Advanced training solutions like VR and Online Learning present a clear path forward, heralding a new era of efficient, engaging, and accessible training.


As the maritime sector continues to evolve, the adoption of these innovative training methodologies will undoubtedly play a critical role in shaping the future of maritime education and training.


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