This chapter examines workforce development and seafarer training issues, such as maritime education and qualifications; training gaps and complexity; declining opportunities; the ageing workforce; and skills shortages.
Australia's maritime workforce consists of ship crew; harbour masters; marine pilots; tug operators; and maritime surveyors. It is one of the oldest workforces in Australia, with over half the workers over the age of 45 and the number of younger people entering the industry declining due to a lack of employment opportunities and a shortage of training berths.
In 2012, when the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping Bill) 2012 was introduced into the House of Representatives, the then Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon. Mr Anthony Albanese MP, stated in his second reading speech:
Like many industries, the maritime sector is also feeling the pressures of an ageing workforce. We must attract new recruits; but we also need to have enough ships so that cadets can gain the required sea time to obtain their qualifications.
In the absence of domestic shipping capacity we will be unable to train our own seafarers and will be reliant on the international market place to provide us with our maritime safety and environmental regulators.
As a trading nation and an island, Australia will always require maritime skills to ensure that ships operate safely and that sensitive marine environments, such as the Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait, and Coral Sea, are protected. Hence, a key issue for the industry going forward is ensuring that critical skills are developed and maintained in Australia.
To obtain the necessary qualifications to undertake the various roles across the maritime industry, those entering the workforce are required to complete several years of training in accordance with a number of international conventions, such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 and the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers 1978.
AMSA states that the maintenance of a trained workforce will require:
forecasting of future training needs;
an ability to anticipate advances in technology (and the corresponding skills and expertise for seafarers); and
an ability to adapt to technological change.
Shipping Australia Limited (SAL) also noted that training requirements are changing as technologies develop. For example, it submitted that, with the development of autonomous vessels and technology-based operational systems, new skills will be required and traditional skills will become redundant.
Australian government support
In their submission to the inquiry, the Department of Education and Training highlighted a number of support mechanisms the Australian government funds to develop the maritime workforce and improve seafarer training. These include the Skilling Australians Fund; the National Institutes Program; VET student loans program; and Australian apprenticeships.
The Australian government has also set up a Maritime Industry References Committee (MIRC) to improve the currency of nationally‑recognised seafarer training and its alignment with national regulatory requirements. The MIRC is comprised of a number of key organisations across the sector and is responsible for developing a maritime training package covering occupations such as general-purpose hands; coxswains; marine-engine drivers; marine engineers; marine surveyors; deck officers; and ship masters.
Another key output of the MIRC is a skills forecast report which provides stakeholders with information on the industry's outlook, new and emerging skills, and any associated training needs. For example, in 2018 the report highlighted the need for the workforce to respond to new and emerging technologies, such as automation, big data, and cyber security. It also identified regulatory requirements, environmental pressures, an ageing workforce, increased competition for skilled workers, skills shortages, and the availability of, and access to, training, as key risks.
Seafarer training and certification
Australia has a strong, and enduring, reputation for its seafarer training capabilities. SAL highlighted this in its submission by noting the number of foreign seafaring students who have trained at Australian institutions since the 1980s, and who have, subsequently, been employed at the highest levels in the industry by leading shipping companies. In 2017, there were 6633 students enrolled in maritime vocational education and training courses in Australia; increasing from 3062 in 2014.
The following discussion provides an overview of Australia's key institutions with regards to training, standards, and certification.
Australian Maritime College at the University of Tasmania
The Australian Maritime College (AMC) at the University of Tasmania is Australia's national institute for maritime training, education, research, and consultancy. As a specialist institute of the University of Tasmania, it plays a lead role in building the skilled workforce required across the maritime sector by providing courses in maritime business and international logistics; ocean seafaring; maritime engineering and hydrodynamics; and coastal seafaring.
AMC is a founding member of the International Association of Maritime Universities. It employs approximately 200 staff from 37 countries and has alumni working in more than 60 countries around the world. Its students have access to the southern hemisphere's most advanced collection of maritime facilities, including experimental tanks and basins; laboratories; simulation technologies; survival and marine firefighting centres; and a training vessel.
AMC facilitates significant research across maritime renewable energy; naval architecture; offshore engineering; human-centred design, sustainable ports, and underwater robotics. It does this by addressing challenges across five cross-disciplinary research themes: maritime education, training and research; engineering in extreme environments; maritime human factors; sustainable ports, shipping, and logistics; and learning advances in maritime education and training.
AMC is also a strategic partner of the Naval Shipbuilding College, and collaborates with industry; government; and academia, to deliver the competencies required for Australia's naval shipbuilding program. This is essential given that it is estimated that 25 000 personnel will be needed, directly and indirectly, to support the continuous shipbuilding program; and the domestic naval shipbuilding workforce is expected to grow by 5200 workers within the next five years.
In his evidence to the inquiry, the principal of the AMC, Mr Michael van Balen, highlighted the significant investment the college is currently undertaking to expand its facilities:
A defence and maritime innovation and design precinct is now under development on AMC's Launceston campus. With a significant funding grant from the Department of Defence recently approved, the scope of enhancements to AMC's maritime engineering and hydrodynamics research facilities will also make a substantial contribution to the naval shipbuilding program and to other maritime industry sectors with potential to expand shipping operations.
Australian Industry Standards
Australian Industry Standards is the government‑funded not-for-profit organisation responsible for skills standards. It currently administers the Maritime Training Package which comprises 26 different maritime qualifications for near coastal and ocean going operations.
AMSA is responsible for the management of Australia's maritime certification system. Amongst other things, it issues certificates of competency recognising international seafarer qualifications under Marine Order 70 (Seafarer Certification). These require the completion of an approved course of study at an approved organisation; completion of appropriate qualifying sea service; completion of an oral examination; and a valid certificate of medical fitness. The related requirements for seafarers on domestic vessels operating commercially are provided under Marine Order 505 (Certificates of competency—national law).
AMSA indicated that it is currently working with industry on ways to develop and maintain a workforce of trained seafarers, now and in to the future, and that achieving the appropriate level of trained seafarers will require significant planning. It noted that it takes years of training to attain the necessary sea‑time, competencies and experience across various operations; and the more highly skilled the role, the longer the training.
Although the requirements depend on the level of qualification sought and the experience of the individual seafarer, positions such as master mariner can require up to 15 years of training as they may be responsible for a 300 000 DWT oil tanker or a cruise ship carrying 8000 passengers and crew.
To emphasise the level of training some positions require, AMSA also pointed to the requirements to obtain the qualification 'coastal pilot'. Under Marine Order 54 (Coastal Pilotage) 2014, coastal pilots and coastal pilotage providers are licensed and regulated by AMSA. Marine Order 54 requires prospective pilots to have a trainee pilot licence. To obtain a trainee pilot licence the applicant is required to hold an unlimited 'Masters' qualification, in addition to having 36 months of qualifying sea service as Master, navigating officer in charge of a watch, or a pilot on a vessel of at least 500 gross tonnage.
Given the qualifications and experience that are necessary to become a coastal pilot, the majority of applicants are in the later stages of their career. To progress from trainee pilot to holding an unrestricted pilot licence involves an additional number of voyages, including check voyages (voyages under evaluation) and exams—a process that takes on average an additional 18 months.
Key areas of discussion
The industry's current qualifications framework was described as 'complex', and the structure of the legislation, regulations and standards as 'difficult to understand'. As a result of this type of stakeholder feedback, AMSA is currently reviewing Marine Order 505, mentioned above, which sets out the standard for certificates of competency for masters and crew of domestic commercial vessels.
CSL Australia submitted that a gap currently exists for marine personnel to progress from an initial skillset to the highest marine qualifications. It expects this gap to continue to widen due to a lack of opportunities and incentives for seafarers to become masters, chief engineers, marine pilots, and harbour masters. It notes that, although the required experience could be gained on international voyages and international vessels, due to lower wages and the application of domestic income tax legislation, there is little financial incentive to do so. In conclusion CSL Australia states:
A strong united platform from the government to encourage entry level seafarers on the Australian coast, together with support for a financial incentive for international based Australian seafarers, would maintain the current high level of skill and experience that exists within the marine pilotage and port base services sectors today.
A number of submitters reflected on the continuing decline in employment levels for maritime workers. The Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers (AIMPE) commented specifically on the decline in employment opportunities for its members over the past five years. The AIMPE attributed this decline to the cessation of a number of major offshore oil and gas developments and a decrease in the number of Australian crews involved in the coastal shipping sector.
In support of its argument, AIMPE noted that all of the foreign-flagged, Australian crewed vessels issued with transitional general licences in 2012 have since been withdrawn from operating in Australia. The tankers servicing the coastal trade with petroleum products, and several Australian-flagged vessels have also been withdrawn—resulting in additional job losses for Australian seafarers. It was noted that the cargo carried by these vessels is now being carried by foreign-flagged ships (with foreign crews) operating under temporary licences.
To promote seafaring as a career, and to recognise it as global profession, SAL submitted that Australia should support Australian seafarers who aspire to work on foreign-flagged ships. The MIAL, however, noted that the use of foreign ships to gain sea time may not be as straightforward as it seems, submitting to the committee that:
[f]oreign flagged ships have their own training requirements and often all training spaces are already filled, leaving little availability for Australian cadets across the foreign fleet. Furthermore, the provision of maritime skills is not just an Australian problem. There is a critical shortage of training berths globally.
Ageing workforce and skills shortages
Ports Australia highlights that, due to the reduced number of Australian seafarers employed in shipping, there are less qualified and experienced Australian seafarers who can undertake key marine operational roles, such as harbour masters and marine pilots. It noted that a recent survey reported that 75 per cent of employers had experienced maritime skills shortages in the preceding 12 months.
This was also a concern of Mr Dale Emmerton who, in his evidence to the inquiry, indicated that a key benefit of having an Australian domestic shipping industry was that it could supply qualified individuals for non-seagoing roles. Specifically he said that:
… one of the positives or necessities of having an Australian domestic shipping industry is there are a number of non-seagoing areas where people are employed who have to have a seagoing qualification. Some examples of that are marine pilots—every port company in Australia has a pilot or a number of pilots, all of whom need a marine qualification that, ostensibly, can't be provided by their existing employer; classification society surveyors who, generally, come with maritime qualifications that can't be passed up to them by their employer; and regulatory surveyors—by regulatory I mean Australian Maritime Safety Authority surveyors who, predominantly, are of a marine background, either engineer or deck officer.
In February 2019, Maritime Industry Australia Limited (MIAL) released a census report indicating that, by 2023, an additional 542 seafarers would be required for jobs at sea, and an additional 173 seafarers for land-based positions.
A number of key insights of the report were that that a significant portion of the additional positions were expected to be in senior roles, such as masters and engineers that require years of training; and that the small Australian fleet could negatively impact on Australia's ability to train seafarers for sea who could transition to various critical land-based positions. The report also identified cost as a key barrier to conducting additional seafarer training, and that a shortage of 560 seafarers is expected by 2023.
In its submission, the Centre for Supply Chain and Logistics at Deakin University (CSLC) promoted the expansion and development of Australian educational institutions specialising in the provision of relevant training to help address the current skills shortage. It also noted that having more Australian‑crewed vessels around Australia's coastline would benefit Australia's naval and border force agencies due to an increased availability of qualified and experienced maritime personnel. This would also assist filling land‑based roles that require maritime‑related knowledge.
The ageing nature of the workforce was also of concern to Ports Australia, with figures indicating that the number of maritime workers under the age of 30 fell 11.7 per cent in the decade to 2016, and the number of workers aged 60 and over grew in-excess of 70 per cent. Ports Australia submitted that, in the future, due to the lack of experienced and qualified professionals entering the industry, Australia could experience reduced fuel security; import and export delays; increased costs and safety incidents; negative impacts on the sustainability of Australian businesses; and a reduced ability to support the Royal Australian Navy in times of conflict and emergency relief.
Committee view and recommendations
The committee notes that, due to declining industry trends, there are less qualified and experienced personnel available for key marine operational roles, and that 75 per cent of employers had experienced skills shortages.
The committee is concerned about the decline in the number of maritime workers under the age of 30 and the ongoing shortages of skilled seafarers. The committee highlights that this will have ramifications on fuel security; imports and exports; maritime safety; and the ability to effectively provide support in times of crisis and emergency.
The committee acknowledges concerns that there is a training gap for marine personnel to progress from an initial skillset to higher marine qualifications, and that this gap is likely to become more acute due to the lack of opportunities and incentives for seafarers to become masters, chief engineers, marine pilots, and harbour masters.
The committee recommends that the Australian government identifies, develops, and implements policies to arrest the decline in Australia’s maritime employment opportunities, and promotes seafaring as a career for younger Australians. This process should be guided by a maritime workforce development stakeholder forum.