PSS and the Maritime Skills Commission

Published: Tuesday, November 17, 2020 - 08:02

Maritime Skills CommissionThere’s a new kid on the maritime block, the Maritime Skills Commission. It’s the brainchild of the Department for Transport which proposed the creation of the Commission as part of its Maritime 2050 strategy. Progress in setting it up was delayed a bit by the virus, simply because everyone involved had more pressing things to do, but we met for the first time this summer.

The central purpose of the Commission is to ensure that all parts of the maritime sector have the people they need for business success. That’s set out a little more formally in these seven objectives:

1.       Understand the skills needs of the sector, including the effects of technological change, and to make recommendations for action

2.       Ensure that no part of the sector suffers from serious skills shortages or skills gaps

3.       Ensure that the sector has the apprenticeships and qualifications it needs

4.       Ensure the sector has the training provision it needs, (including the use of technology to engage learners and keep costs down)

5.       Provide employers and individuals with clear information about career paths and re-training options

6.       Ensuring that employers have good quality recruits for their vacancies through effective promotion of maritime careers

7.       Increase exports of maritime education and training

That’s a mix of quite high level strategic objectives and more operational tasks.

The Commission will most certainly not become is another ‘organisation’. We have one person, the very able Chrissie Clarke, working part-time as our secretariat, and no other staff – but we have two big assets which give me the confidence that we can make a difference.

Lucy Armstrong
Lucy Armstrong, Chair of Port of Tyne

The first is the team of Commissioners. Graham Baldwin, our Chair has collected an impressive group of people from senior positions right across the maritime sector – ports, shipping, professional services, marine engineering and science, and marine leisure. For the ports sector there’s Lucy Armstrong, Chair of the Port of Tyne, and Alison Rumsey, Chief HR Officer for Associated British Ports. (You’ll find profiles of all the Commissioners, and a good deal of other information, on our website:

None of us is paid, so we’ve all signed up in the expectation that we will roll our sleeves up to make a personal contribution, championing and leading projects and actively participating in working groups.

The second reason, perhaps a bit surprisingly, is our reporting structure. The Commission reports jointly to the Maritime Minister and to Maritime UK’s National Council.  I’m not sure you’ll find that model in the management textbooks, but the reason I think it will work for us is that it means a promise from both that they’ll listen; that’s very valuable.

Every five years we are to produce a ‘State of the Nation’ report on whether the sector has the people we need for business success, and if not, what needs to be done to sort it out. And we are to publish annual reports to supplement the five-yearly review. So we will get frequent opportunities to put evidence-based recommendations in front of people in a position to act. That’s no guarantee of success, but it’s a very helpful step.

Most of our work will be done on a project basis with a small group of Commissioners wrestling with a topic to get to the heart of what the problems really are – often quite different to the symptoms which people talk about – then shaping some recommendations in such a way that we make more progress faster in tackling them.

As an early example, I am leading a project to look at the impact of Covid-19 on the use of digital learning. Every training provider had to adapt fast to the restrictions imposed because of the virus, with most making extensive use of digital technology to keep learners learning. This emergency response has almost certainly brought forward the day when there is widespread acceptance of the use of digital technology in learning, by providers and by learners. The Commission is looking to consolidate the gains by capturing and sharing the lessons learned. 

I am also getting us going on exports by convening an initial, sector-wide, meeting on 7th December for education and training providers who are exporting. I am looking for greater collaboration for greater success. I want providers to know about each other, not least with an eye to collaboration to win larger projects, I want the providers to know what the Department for International Trade can do to help them, and I want the Department to know what everyone does so that it can help them win more business.

Closer to home, one of its first projects the Commission will be looking at the future skills needs of ports. Working in partnership with UKMPG but very much looking across all ports, not just UKMPG members, the project will explore the question:

What do the likely future ports workforce and ways of working look like and how can the sector transition from the position today?

The starting-point is to ask what the port of the future might look like. Ports are increasingly shaped by forces such as globalization of supply chains, automation, digitisation and sustainability. These are grand terms and it takes some doing to understand what they might mean in due course in terms of a different mix of people, and a different mix of skills.

Ports know about major change, of course. Few innovations in modern times have had the impact that the creation of the shipping container has, hugely reducing shipping costs, stimulating a boom in world trade, building some ports up (sometimes from nothing), knocking others back - and transforming working practices beyond recognition. What changes will we see in the next 30 years, and what will they mean for the type of people ports need to recruit and train and nurture and support? The project will explore those questions.

It’s very early days, but I am hopeful that the Commission will be seen in due course as a really useful addition to the maritime skills scene.