Technology has transformed every aspect of our lives including the way we work. Even in the maritime industry which is traditionally perceived as very conservative, cutting-edge technologies such as digital twins and blockchain are rapidly taking over.
Seafarers have to deal with unstructured and unpredictable issues when onboard a vessel and going beyond the technical skills is of utmost importance. There is a great need to have the crew on board who can analyse a situation and make a decision on the spot for issues they may have never confronted before. This is why the job-specific skills are not enough and crew managers are now focused more on the so-called “soft skills”. These are the skills which are not related to specific domain knowledge. The soft skills like coordination, decision-making and resilience, are put under the microscope before hiring; they are assessed and interpreted.
The future beholds for soft skills
Several ongoing initiatives aim at building autonomous vessels, and by 2040, their adoption under human supervision is expected to reach 11% to 17%. On the other hand, according to IMarEST’s related survey results, a percentage of only 15% believe that seafarers are prepared to handle autonomous elements, and this is partly due to a shortage of technical and partly to non-technical, “soft” skills.
Moreover, LinkedIn included soft skills in its Global Talent Trends 2019 report, as the skills which impact the future of any business. There are specific human capabilities which cannot be automated and these concern assertiveness and resilience amongst others. Furthermore, with technology applied everywhere, employees are required to have the necessary skills to collaborate and make effective decisions.
Soft skills for climate change
We are also experiencing major climate changes all around the globe. These changes result in severe weather conditions, where human performance is constantly tested onboard. Crews are required to have the perfect combination of technical skills to operate high-tech machinery and the soft skills to cope under pressure and quickly bounce back after an unfortunate incident.
It is interesting to know that for the worst US commercial maritime disaster in 2015, the El Faro, the reason which was reported as the cause for the incident was lack of soft skills. The National Transportation Safety Board identified the captain’s decision making as the main reason for the tragedy that killed 33 people, as well as the crew’s lack of assertiveness, as a contributing factor.
Extreme weather conditions, the (very) near future of autonomous ships taking over; these are not things to consider, instead they are the reasons to act now. Now, more than ever before is the time for the seafarers to be prepared for the unknown both in terms of short-term (extreme weather) and long-term (autonomous vessels). This requires one to possess job-specific skills like knowledge of meteorology and ice accretion, as well as the soft skills to utilise them under pressure and when working with others, to solve new or emerging problems with no known answers.