SINGAPORE - Government agencies, unions and the maritime sector are stepping up efforts to bolster a dwindling seafaring workforce, with a new initiative to train more marine engineers set to be launched by the end of the year.
The Tripartite Engineering Training Award (Teta) aims to encourage more Singaporeans to pursue careers as marine engineering officers on board commercial ships.
The 31-month programme, by the Singapore Maritime Officers' Union (SMOU) and Wavelink Maritime Institute, will subsidise the cadets' training and secure placements with shipping companies even before they begin.
Speaking on the sidelines of the eighth Maritime Manpower Conference on Thursday, SMOU general secretary Mary Liew said that it was timely to groom more marine engineers.
"We've received feedback from shipping companies that there are not enough engineers on board their ships. We want to bear in mind the needs of our shipping community."
Teta will join SMOU and Wavelink's existing Tripartite Nautical Training Award (TNTA) programme, a similar place-and-train initiative launched in 2009 to prepare more Singaporeans for careers as nautical officers.
At the biennial conference, guest-of-honour Mr Chan Chun Sing, minister in the Prime Minister's Office and secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), stressed the need to combat labour shortages in the seafaring workforce.
He said: "In today's manpower-scarce environment, we face an even greater challenge in the maritime industry. Jobs are a-plenty, and it is difficult to attract the young, especially if they continue to see the maritime industry with old lenses."
Mr Chan suggested attracting the younger generation to seafaring careers as early as in schools, and also leveraging on those serving doing national service in the navy.
He also noted the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore's (MPA) efforts to work with SMOU to renew vocational licences for those already in the industry, and suggested that they seek ways to retain older workers for longer, in order to guide younger generations of seafarers.
Meanwhile, MPA chief executive Andrew Tan announced that 20 students will be receiving Tripartite Maritime Scholarships in August, the highest number since the launch of the scholarship in 2002, and double the average number given out in previous years.
Said Mr Tan: "The Government, unions and employers have to work together to improve perceptions of seafaring careers, raise awareness of progression opportunities, and encourage investing in quality Singaporean seafarers."
The maritime industry contributes 7 per cent of Singapore's GDP. Last year, vessel arrival tonnage here reached a record high of close to 2.4 billion gross tons.