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ISWAN publishes action plan for addressing the maritime recruitment crisis

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LONDON : In the action plan from its annual seminar, the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) stresses the importance of listening directly to seafarers if the maritime sector is to develop effective solutions to the recruitment and retention crisis.

At the ISWAN 2023 Seminar last November, ISWAN brought together representatives from across the maritime sector to take a solutions-focused approach to the increasingly acute recruitment and retention crisis that it faces. The seminar was framed in the context of the rapid changes that the maritime sector is undergoing and the implications that this has for seafarers and for the seafaring profession.

Taking as its starting point the technological revolution that maritime has already begun to negotiate, ISWAN’s seminar sought to cast light on how the sector can reimagine the vocation of seafaring in a digital age. What changes will be needed for maritime employers to successfully recruit and retain the highly skilled seafarers who will be needed to power the decarbonised, increasingly automated vessels of the future?

Expert panels from industry, academia, trade unions, welfare organisations and, crucially, active seafarers explored different facets of the problem and worked together to develop potential solutions. The resultant action plan builds on the solutions identified over the course of the day with the aim of providing a springboard for continued collaborative action across the industry.

The plan calls for action in three key areas if the maritime sector is to recruit and retain seafarers more effectively. The section on Fair Work focuses on practical steps that the maritime sector can take to bridge the gap between current working conditions and seafarers’ aspirations. What does fair work mean for seafarers of today and how can companies reinvent their offer to current and prospective crew? ISWAN highlights that the maritime sector must be willing to invest more in seafarers’ working conditions and wellbeing in order to make the sector sustainable in the long term.

Taking steps to build more diverse, equitable and inclusive cultures at sea is often seen as key to addressing the recruitment gap. The Inclusive Culture section of ISWAN’s action plan calls on the maritime sector to commit to going further than minimum regulatory standards in order to address the barriers that prevent it from benefiting from a more diverse range of talents and backgrounds.

Making technology work for seafarers is a further pillar of the action plan. The maritime sector is undergoing technological transformation as a result of onboard connectivity, automation and the journey towards decarbonisation. Action points under the theme of Changing technologies – Impact on wellbeing reflect the challenges to seafarers’ wellbeing of such a rapid pace of change, as well as the scope for technology to help to reinvent seafaring and restore its attractiveness in the digital age.

The overriding theme and action point that emerged from ISWAN’s seminar is that the maritime sector must listen much more closely to what seafarers have to say about the challenges of living and working at sea and, crucially, to turn their insights into practical actions.

Simon Grainge, Chief Executive of ISWAN, said: ’The maritime industry is at a juncture in terms of being able to attract and retain the skilled seafarers that it will need to make a successful transition to zero carbon. Seafaring can be a unique and rewarding vocation, but concerted, collaborative action is needed to make maritime careers genuinely safe, sustainable and inclusive. Before increasing efforts to raise the profile of the varied career paths it offers, the maritime sector must take committed action to ensure that it can provide fair working conditions and psychologically safe environments for the seafarers that it seeks to attract. We look forward to working with stakeholders across the maritime sector to take forward some of the initiatives identified in our action plan.’

ISWAN’s seminar was held in Helsinki on 16 November 2023 and hosted by the Finnish Seamen’s Service (FSS), a long-standing ISWAN member, as part of FSS’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

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