Ratings survey identifies UK’s ageing seafaring workforce


The UK’s female ratings are still underrepresented in the deck and engine room, compared to in hospitality roles. Meanwhile, the overall age profile of the UK’s estimated 8,800 merchant-navy ratings is advancing, which could impede the workforce’s potential to up-skill and retrain as officers.

These were the conclusions from the UK Ratings Survey, which was undertaken by Precious Alliance on behalf of the JW Slater Memorial Fund, using the UK Chamber's data on current UK rating numbers. The Slater fund provides grants to merchant-navy ratings, enabling them to undertake training to become deck, engineering and electro-technical officers. 

Some 68% of all UK ratings are male, the survey found. However, when looking at UK-certificated officers, the gender split jumps to 97% were male, with just 3% female. The data suggests that this is because women on ships tend to be employed overwhelmingly in hospitality and catering roles, said Rhett Harris from Precious Alliance, who presented the survey’s findings at the MNTB/Slater Fund seminar, held in London on July 10th.

Meanwhile, ratings are getting older. Approximately three-quarters of UK deck and engine ratings are in the 40+ age group the survey said. Based on data from UK Chamber member companies, there were around 930 UK deck and engine ratings under the age of 40 during 2016.

Looking to the future, Precious Alliance expects a 13% increase in UK ratings, largely due to the employment of a greater number of hospitality ratings, based on figures from Oxford Economics. It is probably reasonable to assume there will be a slight fall in deck ratings, but it’s impossible to know for sure from the data available, Rhett Harris told the seminar.

Hospitality ratings are expected to increase 30% from 9,566 in 2016 to 12,690 in 2026, according to data from the 2017 DfT UK’s ‘Seafarers Projections: 2016 to 2026’ report. Meanwhile, the number of non-hospitality ratings is projected to decrease 16% to 5,333 over the same period.

Turning ratings into officers

There remains a broad interest among ratings in retraining to become officers, the survey found. However, the problem of the ageing workforce remains.

As part of the survey project, Precious Alliance conducted a questionnaire that was completed by 17 companies. Collectively, these companies employ 2,600 UK ratings – equivalent to around 30% of the total number estimated in the DfT’s 2015 seafarer report.

Around 70% of the ratings who responded to the questionnaire said they had had an interest in becoming an officer when they first began working in the maritime industry. The majority of these people said they had remained a rating because they did not have the requisite academic grades.  Only 30% said they had always planned on being a rating.

“People doubt their own ability when they start their career at sea,” Rhett Harris said when presenting the findings.

Just over half of all respondents said that they were still interested in undertaking more training to become an officer, now that they had begun their career at sea. The vast majority of these would-be officers were concerned about financing their further study, however. Others said returning to a full-time college environment would be a challenge.

The ratings who said they had no interest in training to be an officer mostly blamed their age. Others said they were happy in the job they already have.

 “The age profile of the current ratings is generally thought to be too high for any real change in thinking – and most of the current rating supply will remain ratings until they retire,” said Rhett Harris in his presentation.

Precious Alliance believes deck and engine ratings will be the primary beneficiaries of grants from the JW Slater Memorial Fund. Catering and hotel ratings are much less likely to wish to convert to traditional deck or engine officers, the body said.

Since the JW Slater Fund’s inception in 1977, it has awarded more than £4.5 million to nearly 1,600 UK merchant-navy ratings for officer training. To date, nearly 400 scholars have achieved officer certification and some 232 are on programme, aspiring to do the same.

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For more information contact:

Holly Birkett

Communications Manager (content & digital)

020 7417 2868 / 07807 790058