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Competency of merchant ship officers in the global shipping labour market: a study of the ‘Knowing-Doing’ gap

Mazhari, Shahriar 2018. Competency of merchant ship officers in the global shipping labour market: a study of the ‘Knowing-Doing’ gap. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Shipping is one of the most globalised industries and is central to the world economy. It is estimated that over 50,000 ships (ICS 2017), manned by over 1.2 million seafarers, carry about 90 percent of world trade (ILO 2017). The seagoing workforce needed to operate these ships are drawn from the pool of the global shipping labour market. The safe and efficient operation of ships depends on the competence of the merchant ship officers who need to undergo diverse training in order to obtain the necessary knowledge and skills to perform shipboard tasks. In order to ensure the safe operation of ships and to harmonise the maritime education and training of the seafarers globally, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) introduced the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), which stipulates the minimum standard of competence prescribed for the seafarers. Although the STCW Convention set out to standardise seafarers’ education and training, there is evidence that indicates the Convention has not been uniformly implemented and subsequently seafarers are not being uniformly trained and certified across countries. Furthermore, there is also evidence that suggests the stakeholders in the industry, particularly ship owners and ship operators, perceive a gap between the training being provided to officers and the actual skills the officers need to perform their shipboard duties. Although the voice of seafarers is largely missing in the literature, there is anecdotal evidence that indicates this perception is also shared by the officers themselves. Hence, this research examines the perceived ‘gap’ in the skills and competency of merchant ship officers, based on a detailed investigation of key industry stakeholders. The research also examines the nature of the skills and competency gap and the underlying reasons behind the emergence of such a gap. The study adopts a qualitative research design to conduct the investigation in which a total of 61 informants, including ship owners, officers and trainers, across five countries, are interviewed. In addition, a documentary analysis is undertaken that includes policy documents, the STCW Convention, shipping companies’ training procedures and training institutes’ curricula, to complement the data from the semi-structured interviews. As a result of the STCW Convention undergoing a major revision during the course of the investigation, further interviews are conducted to examine whether the provisions of the revised Convention address the perceived skills and competency gap. The empirical study of stakeholder perceptions, along with documentary analysis of the industry’s literature, reveals that the skills and competency gap of the merchant ship officers in the global labour market is indeed a prominent issue that needs to be addressed. Through applying relevant learning theories to the research data, the competency gap is categorised into a gap in theory, or the ‘knowing’ gap, and a gap in practice, or the ‘doing’ gap. The findings show that while there is a ‘knowing’ gap in the education of the officers, the gap in ‘doing’ or the practical skills of the merchant ship officers is more salient. The underlying reasons for such a gap are found to be largely rooted in two major phenomena. One pertains to the globalisation of shipping that led to practices such as flagging out, the emergence of a global labour market for seafarers and the shifting of maritime education and training from Traditional Maritime Nations (TMNs) to newly emerging labour-supplying nations with varying socio-economic contexts. Findings include inconsistencies in implementation of the training standards across different countries, declining commitment of the shipping companies towards the training of the workforce, as well as shortcomings to the training institutions’ resources and practices. The second phenomenon relates to advances in technology and equipment, which have led to a reduction in the number of crew and also caused significant changes to the nature of the work on board, leading to a requirement for new skills and also affecting the process of learning. In other words, advances in technology and equipment on board introduce limitations to the traditional apprenticeship model of training as these new technologies call for a more cognitive approach to the learning process. This thesis concludes by recommending measures through which the gap can be addressed.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Funders: SIRC-Nippon Foundation Fellowship
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 9 March 2018
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2021 09:35

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