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Forward Thinking Conference focusses on 4IR maritime skills

Topics of discussion during the Forward Thinking for Maritime Education and Training Excellence conference, hosted by the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) in Durban.

Exploring ways to achieve Maritime Excellence in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) was at the heart of discussions on the second day of the Forward Thinking for Maritime Education and Training Excellence Conference hosted by the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) in Durban today (Tuesday, 15 October).

Sweden’s World Maritime University Associate Professor Momoko Kitada, an expert on the impact of automation on future labour trends, said many industries – including the maritime industry – are concerned with whether automation will lead to massive unemployment and what interventions were needed to prepare for the 4IR.

With Norway planning to send the first autonomous ship to sea in 2020 – an electric and self-propelled container ship – Kitada said the maritime industry will certainly be impacted by 4IR trends. These include automation in maintenance, using drones for ship repairs at sea, humanoid robots working on cruise ships and various new services to increase efficiencies in maritime businesses.

“Technology will reduce staff per unit, but the trend in the expansion of international trade will counterbalance this. People are still needed. We predict that world trade will increase and therefore our conclusion is that seafarers need to adapt their skills, but they will still be in demand. These jobs will become more digitalised, and our education and training skills development will need to adapt accordingly,” said Kitada.

She said improved digital skills in the maritime industry could lead to the unlocking of new nautical routes and highways to replace and complement transport modes.

However, South Africa needed to invest in human capital and skills development to prepare for this reality. “The developing world is lagging behind regarding technological advancement and innovations. Skills sets have to be ready to handle new technologies – despite the adoption rate projected to be slower for automation in the maritime sector, compared to other sectors,” said Kitada.

The skills that will be needed, according to Kitada, include data fluency, digital operation and basic software engineering, as well as research skills to work independently with big data through critical thinking, combined with analytical skills.

Sound clip: World Maritime University Associate Professor, Momoko Kitada.

Kitada stressed that the informal economy should be included in future plans for the maritime industry in South Africa, and that local solutions should be designed by local experts to create employment through inclusive academia-government-industrial decision-making.

DAMEN Shipyards Director Sefale Montsi said South African skills training for the future should be focussed on training people “for life, not for a job”.

“In the world of 4IR skills development we should not be focussed on jobs, but on the whole person – to be flexible, to be focussed and adaptable to future trends. That way we can be effective as a country to create opportunities for South Africans – to not just be employed, but to innovate and to create new projects for industry,” said Montsi.

Other topics discussed during the second and final day of the conference included the South African Qualifications Framework – moving beyond the barriers to tertiary skills development and education by making courses more accessible and responsive to market needs, as well as finding a new employment mandate for maritime skills development.

The Forward Thinking Conference was hosted in partnership with AMSOL, the John Langalibalele Dube Institute, the eThekwini Maritime Cluster, eThekwini Municipality, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the Moses Kotane Institute.


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