How to build “blue” skills for the ocean economy

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How to build “blue” skills for the ocean economy – World Ocean Initiative (

Tomorrow’s blue economy can offer young people roles with a sense of purpose

December 12 2022 | 3 min

The blue economy is growing fast, and action is needed to attract enough people to fill the millions of new jobs being created, speakers told audiences at the 9th World Ocean Summit in Lisbon earlier this year.

Employment in ocean-based industries is set to more than double between 2010 and 2030, to about 40m. The fastest employment growth is expected in marine aquaculture, fish-processing, offshore wind and port activities.

A big gap to fill

Yet, as reported by speakers from the United States and parts of Europe, employers are already struggling to fill existing jobs.

In the United States, the education system is set up to produce about 50% of the students needed, according to Liesl Hotaling, president of Eidos Education, an organisation that supports teachers and students in the US. “We’re not teaching them the appropriate skills,” she says.

In Europe, Portugal’s artisanal fisheries are struggling to attract young people. “It’s very difficult for fishermen to attract their sons, or the son of anybody else, to step in,” said Assunção Cristas, head of the environment practice area at VdA Legal Partners in Lisbon.

And even in the Netherlands, with its proud maritime heritage, “big maritime firms really struggle to attract and retain young talent”, according to Wietse van der Werf, founder and chief executive of the Sea Ranger Service, a social enterprise that co-operates with governments to manage the oceans.

The 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report published by shipping association BIMCO and the International Chamber of Shipping warns that the seafaring industry must “significantly” increase training and recruitment levels to avoid a “serious shortage” of officers by 2026. Many maritime-based jobs do not involve working on board ships, explained Ms Hotaling, and the ocean sector also needs scientists, engineers, technicians and data modellers.

Starting them young

One way to address the skills shortage is to help children develop an interest in oceans and awareness of our dependence on them, said Richard Hill, chief executive of London-based Ocean Generation, a movement aiming to restore a healthy relationship between humanity and the ocean. He added that young people should be better educated about oceans, as they will be most impacted by the threats facing them.

“It’s amazing how ignorant people are around the ocean,” said Mr Hill. “Everyone understands the impact rainforests have on climate change, but they rarely understand the impact [of] oceans,” he added.

Ocean Generation seeks to encourage people to engage with and be curious about oceans from an early age. It hasdeveloped a tool to encourage children as young as three to “play” with the ocean online, and produced a digital learning hub for teachers and parents to bring the importance of the ocean to the classroom. It also runs a programme which enables young people to explore “green” ocean careers.

Ocean Generation is also working with businesses to develop bespoke programmes that include social-enterprise opportunities. “Not all young people want to go on a graduate scheme or go and work on a boat,” said Mr Hill. “The key thing is we need to get people to be really interested in the ocean early on, to see the relevance between themselves and the sea, and see that as a potential career.”

In the Netherlands, the Sea Ranger Service is also aiming to boost young people’s interest in a maritime career. It offers a programme for young people to spend a year working on sustainable “blue” activities, including aquaculturemarine restoration work and climate research. Young people are attracted to building blue skills in a role with a sense of purpose, helping to protect and use the ocean sustainably, said the enterprise’s Mr van der Werf. “They feel a mission that they can support and get behind,” he added.

Ensuring equal representation

Women’s representation varies widely across the blue economy. Women make up just 1.28% of the global seafarer workforce, but comprise the majority of the workforce in certain maritime sectors, such as work on cruise ships, according to the 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report.

As explained by Maria Damanaki, an independent adviser on climate and ocean, a large part of the problem facing female recruitment is the conservative nature and masculine values prevalent in the maritime industry, and the fact that shipowners often prefer to have men working on board their ships. Boosting female recruitment is, therefore, “about creating a safe work environment … where women can be respected,” said Mr van der Werf.

There are some signs of positive change. More than 70% of applicants to the Sea Ranger Service programme over the last few years have been young women, according to Mr van der Werf. The programme’s website features photos of women seafarers, highlighting the importance of good messaging to attract more women to work in the blue economy. “When you see yourself represented, it makes a huge difference,” he said.

Ultimately, careful messaging will be vital to encourage more people, of all genders and ages, to work in the blue economy. “The [maritime] industry can do a lot better in its communication, showing young people that there is a space for them,” according to Mr van der Werf.

The conversation around blue skills will continue at the World Ocean Summit in Lisbon from February 27th to March 1st 2023. Register today for a special early bird pass.

VISIT ECONOMIST IMPACT / WORLD OCEAN INITIATIVE WEBPAGE: How to build “blue” skills for the ocean economy – World Ocean Initiative (


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