Creating skills in the maritime sector

South Africa has the potential to become an internationally recognised maritime nation


South Africa has the potential to become an internationally recognised maritime nation, with a dynamic Blue Economy that could send the gross domestic product (GDP) and job creation into overdrive

For this to happen, the maritime sector has to invest in developing the skills required by the jobs that will be created in a demanding and competitive international environment. This daunting responsibility falls to a relatively new institution—the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI). SAIMI’s Director of Operations, Soraya Artman, tells us more about the journey that lies ahead.

The maritime sector is a relatively new avenue for Artman, who began her career as an articled clerk with a firm of accountants and auditors, obtaining a finance degree in the process and subsequently managing the portfolio of clients. From there, she joined Spoornet as a Management Accountant before spending 14 years at a medical aid administration company, working her way from Financial Manager to General Manager of client relations and completing her Master’s Degree in Business Leadership at the same time. After that came a five-year stint as Finance Manager at the Nelson Mandela University Business School, until the opportunity arose for Artman to apply for her current position as Director of Operations at SAIMI, which she has occupied for one year.

“What attracted me was that the maritime industry is so very broad, has huge potential and is extremely interesting. It could make a significant positive contribution to the economy because it is so largely untapped, although a bit of work needs to be done to make it more sustainable,” says Artman.

SAIMI was created through the efforts of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) and the Department of Higher Education, and with the support of a broad base of public universities, colleges, SETAs, the maritime industry, the government and representatives from the African maritime sector.

In 2011, the Maritime Skills Development Study was commissioned by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA). Later that year, the Maritime Skills Summit was also convened by SAMSA with the Department of Higher Education and Training and Transport. Both of those activities resulted in a recommendation to establish a dedicated national institution focused on maritime skills development. Further to that, in 2013, SAMSA commissioned a feasibility study that confirmed the clear need for a national institute focused on maritime education and training. Consequently, SAIMI was established in 2014.

As a new institution, SAIMI received a three-year funding allocation of R311 million from the National Skills Fund through the Department of Higher Education to initiate and manage its skills development. Further responsibilities include drafting the National Maritime Skills Development Plan and managing the core National Cadet Programme. In other words, SAIMI will be at the forefront of crafting South Africa’s future maritime workforce, in conjunction with other organisations and institutions.

“We are hosted by the Nelson Mandela University but as an independent institute that services the entire nation, we work with all other universities and colleges in the country.

“The overarching objective of SAIMI is to develop the contribution of the maritime sector to the economy of South Africa and Africa at large, by effectively coordinating quality education, training and research with partner institutes,” says Artman.

Blue-sky thinking

The potential contribution of the Blue Economy or Ocean Economy cannot be understated. South Africa has a coastline of about 3 900 kilometres, and its maritime territory makes up about 1.5-million square kilometres, which is greater than its landmass of 1.2-million square kilometres. This represents largely untapped economic and natural resources, which point to tremendous potential for economic growth and job creation.

More than 30 000 vessels pass South Africa’s coastline annually, with 13 000 docking in the country’s ports, but we are not necessarily making good use of those opportunities. Then, 300-million tonnes of cargo and 1.2-million tonnes of liquid fuel are also transported along our coast annually. There are also some 80 oil rigs in the range of the Western Cape.

“I don’t think people fully understand the opportunity,” says Artman. “We have potential offshore resources of approximately nine billion barrels of oil and approximately 63 trillion cubic feet, equivalent to 40 and 370 years of consumption respectively. We’ve also got 20 new marine protected areas—which were declared in 2018—that are advancing the protection of South Africa’s rich coastal and ocean biodiversity to 50 000 square kilometres, approximately two-and-a-half times the size of the Kruger National Park. Overall, this could amount to a contribution of R177 billion to South Africa’s GDP and one million jobs by 2033—provided that we as an institute, along with the government and the private sector, develop the environment for exponential growth,” she adds. Furthermore, the ocean’s economy has the potential to provide job opportunities for South African youth.

Already driving this development is Operation Phakisa, which the government launched in 2014 to accelerate the development of the Blue Economy through detailed planning and targets. By February 2019, Operation Phakisa had unlocked investments of almost R30 billion and more than 7 000 jobs—with SAIMI driving the enhancement of South Africa’s capacity for maritime skills development, education, research and innovation.

Priority projects include working groups on eight areas targeted for capacity development: aquaculture, marine protection and governance, maritime transport, marine manufacturing, offshore oil and gas exploration, small harbour development and coastal and marine tourism.

Artman explains the SAIMI approach: “In a specific focus area, the first thing we generally do as SAIMI is to conduct a skills audit to determine what the needs are, where we are currently and what the development needs are going forward. Within those working groups, we identify challenges and solutions to delivering the skills target in order to support the comprehensive National Maritime Skills Development Strategy. We are not the only players in this field, because we have to include several other government departments within the working groups as well as the universities and colleges. We basically act as the facilitating body, coordinating all of these activities countrywide.”

4IR at sea

Today, no discussion of skills development can avoid the topic of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which has already had a massive impact on the Blue Economy as the maritime sector grapples with the effects of increasing digitalisation, data-driven business, analytics, cyber piracy and the advent of autonomous manufacturing shifts.

“Technology will play a key role as the medium of instruction where we are involved, with the rise of e-learning, distance space-learning and simulated training, so that is really our focus area in terms of how we need to adapt our teaching and learning methods to be able to get across the skills that learners need to acquire in the system.

“The next generation of mariners will have to be fluent in using technology. Technology is all-pervasive, impacting on all aspects of economic and human activity, and there’s a need to ensure that South African and African maritime education and training meets the needs of the global maritime industry that has already embraced digitalisation. We have to embrace the changes that come so that we can continue to be globally competitive,” says Artman.

As a leader in this digitally influenced skills development arena, Artman is up for the challenge. She describes her leadership style as a combination of democratic and situational styles.

“I encourage employees to give their input in all decisions, which I believe ultimately enriches the outcome of decisions made, and they feel their way through the process as well. Another key issue is that employees should be developed in order for them to realise their full potential and, furthermore, enjoy their work and the environment in which they work. Then you get the best out of people. Of course, depending on the situation, you also need to adapt your leadership style. In other words, be flexible in order to achieve the most desirable results. Essentially, it’s just reading the situation and deciding on the best way to approach it,” she concludes. 

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