Singaporeans must form the core of the workforce in the maritime industry as they can benefit from the good career prospects and attractive income it offers.

And the government and industry bodies are collaborating to attract more Singaporeans into the industry through several initiatives.

"Seafaring careers can provide good career prospects and wages, and we want to see more of these well-paying jobs going to Singaporeans," Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday.

He said that as the maritime sector grows and Singapore expands its port facilities in the next 15-20 years, demand for skilled manpower will continue to grow. A pipeline of Singaporeans for leadership and specialist roles should be developed to meet this demand.

"Which means that we will put in the effort to continue to build the infrastructure and expertise, and at the same time, in terms of the pipeline, we need to make sure that the talent is ready and available for these opportunities," he said in his keynote address at the Maritime Manpower Singapore conference yesterday.

Of the 170,000 employed in Singapore's maritime sector, 44 per cent, or 76,000, are locals. This has risen from the 56,000 some 10 years ago. The proportion of Singaporeans in seafaring positions are much lower though, as out of the some 20,000 officers in more than 4,200 Singapore-flagged ships, only 1,605 are locals.

To increase the proportion of Singaporeans in the sector, the government expects employers to play a significant role. "For this to happen, companies need to put in the effort, and we expect companies to put in the effort, to develop the Singaporean core, to develop the pipeline so that Singaporeans at all levels can be trained and developed, so that when the opportunity arises, it makes sense to look to Singaporeans to take up some of these positions," Mr Tan said.

In response to BT queries, Keppel Group, which has significant business in the maritime industry through its offshore & marine subsidiary, said that its hiring policy is based on merit rather than other factors as it values a diverse workforce. It employs 5,000 employees.

It said: "Keppel is committed to embracing workforce diversity and implementing fair employment practices. In our operations worldwide, Keppel adopts merit-based recruitment practices, and embraces diversity and inclusiveness. All new hires are considered based on individual competencies, alignment to the company's core values, as well as organisational and job fit."

There was no response from another large local maritime player, Sembcorp Marine, to this query.

To complement hiring strategies, government agencies have partnered industry bodies to roll out schemes to attract more Singaporeans into the industry. More than $6 million has been pumped in to establish a Singaporean core in the sector.

The Singapore Maritime Officers' Union, working with the Workforce Development Agency, Employment & Employability Institute and the Singapore Shipping Association have started a Tripartite Nautical Training Award to train Singaporeans to take up seafaring roles.

A total of 108 students are undergoing the place-and-train programme, to work towards the Singapore CoC Class 3 qualifications issued by the Maritime Port Authority.

The first batch of graduates are expected to complete their training to be Third Officers by the end of this year. Some 13 companies have participated in the programme by offering shipboard placements, training allowances and long-term jobs for the students.

According to Mr Tan, graduates from the programme will take up appointment as Class 3 Deck Officers and draw a minimum monthly salary of $3,000 and this may increase to $4,000-4,500, excluding allowances, once they are promoted to Class 2 Deck Officers with two to three years experience onboard ships.