Maritime Malta: where is the workforce?


We regularly hear or read that Malta needs to become a centre of maritime excellence. A holistic vision, goals, strategies and consultations – a lot of work has been done and continues to be done. The effort is there and the government, together with the private sector, is working hard to improve the situation. Our ports and harbours have established themselves as a busy maritime hub. We have a maritime flag which is the sixth largest worldwide and the largest in Europe and the yachting and superyacht sector is showing concrete signs of growth.

However, there seems to be general consensus among the many stakeholders that there is a significant shortage in qualified and skilled employees. This is a situation, or rather a reality, that is not only hitting our shores hard but also that of the global maritime sector.

The human resource is an extremely important and determining factor in the success or failure of any industry. When discussing maritime careers, the talk repeatedly concentrates on how the EU’s numbers of seafaring labour force is in a decline and how seafaring risks relinquishing its place as a first world profession. This reality is also true when it comes to shore-based careers and it seems that the decline is happening despite the many measures that various governments have put in place, even with the backing of the EU through the policies and funding programmes.

Various studies will attest to this reality. For example, a study by Professor Joseph Falzon, commissioned by the Malta Institute of Management confirmed that: “The industry is not producing the required human skills and that working in the shipping sector is not attractive, and is perceived as difficult and messy. Fewer qualified personnel exist or are being trained today. Working on vessels each day is different and challenging as you have to apply what you have learnt in a creative way.”

The study further highlights that: “The problem is that young people in Malta nowadays have better alternatives. They do not wish to work in the maritime sector.”

Speaking during a European Shipping Week seminar in March of last year, on how to make the European shipping industry a generator of wealth and employment, Mark Dickinson, General Secretary of Nautilus International, a Maritime Professionals Trade Union said: “There is a need of adequate regulation for the shipping industry, to stamp out the downwards spiral in the quality of seafarers’ working lives, provide support for the maritime cluster and ensure the overall resilience of European shipping.”

There needs to be real and tangible investment in maritime education and training

Another study published by the European Transport Workers’ Federation in March, 2011, states that: “If the EU wishes its policies to be effective in supporting the whole maritime cluster for the long term, policies must be overhauled. Every EU member state granting subsidies to its ship-owners must also ensure that these subsidies are linked to enforceable commitments to employ EU domiciled seafarers.”

It is evident that faced with this reality, for Malta to succeed in its goals of becoming a centre of maritime excellence, as well as to ensure the survival and further development of Malta’s maritime sector, there needs to be real and tangible investment in maritime education and training. Whatever measures and policies are adopted, these need to come from the private sector that should be the central driving force of the maritime industry. This will guarantee that the interests of the investors are protected. On their part, these same investors need to help strengthen the talent pool by re-adopting a culture of nurturing.

One of Malta’s competitive advantages has always been its human capital. The Maltese workforce has always been at the positive end of plaudits. It’s a sort of guarantee, and to a certain extent, the human resource has been a major profit centre for the Maltese industries.

Nurture, though, is a long-term project. It’s not only about re-igniting apprenticeship systems and schemes. These are indeed necessary, especially to protect the transfer of knowledge. However, nurture goes further, as we can learn from, and draw comparison with, other sectors such as ICT and aviation, which are benefitting from their investment in the training programmes they are fronting. The efforts of these two industry sectors do not stop at policy or school visits – rather, they are working through and with the education system to become an option of interest to the students.

Nurturing future employees and future industry leaders is a must if we are to succeed in effectively converting maritime Malta into a centre of maritime excellence. Looking solely at the immediate return through the employment of ‘cheap labour’ through adhering to the minimal standards required by law for the quality of life of seafarers, will in the long term harm the stability of maritime Malta.

The maritime private sector needs to own the necessary proposals for reform and become the agent of change so sorely required. Maritime Malta can truly become a centre of maritime excellence not only through economic growth which can be achieved over a short period of time, but through a sustainable and sustained growth that is synonymous with the highest quality standards.

The Mediterranean Maritime Research and Training Centre is DNV-GL Certified and has full accreditation from Transport Malta to deliver training and certification for local commercial vessels regulation and international STCW certification.