Why ratings require a re-think

The MNTB is holding an upcoming seminar that seeks to tackle some of the problems faced in the recruitment and retention of UK ratings

The UK has an estimated 8,800 merchant-navy ratings, which is expected to grow by 13% by 2026. But the ratings workforce faces certain structural challenges that could affect its future and, by extension, the future of UK seafaring. We need to have a strategy.

On the 13th of September, the Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) will host an event called ‘Re-thinking the Rating’ at Liverpool Town Hall. The event comes at a critical juncture for the industry.

The seminar will consider a number of challenges and opportunities for UK seafarers, including the recruitment of more women into the maritime sector, plus the skills and aptitudes required to pursue a career in shipping in the twenty-first century. 

The MNTB considers that an increase in UK ratings will provide an immense boost to the industry for financial, intellectual and professional reasons. But in increasing and enhancing the workforce, we must also consider its ongoing challenges.

UK merchant-navy ratings are an ageing workforce that needs to be rejuvenated by fresh blood and new recruitment. 

Approximately three-quarters of UK deck and engine ratings are in the 40+ age group, according to the 2017 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. Based on data from UK Chamber member companies, there were only around 930 UK deck and engine ratings under the age of 40 during 2016.

The current ratings workforce is also overwhelmingly male. Some 68% of all UK ratings are male, the 2017 UK Ratings Survey found.

What is more, most of the current rating supply will remain ratings until they retire. There seems to be little appetite for officer training among current serving ratings, which the 2017 survey found was largely down to the high average age of workers.

This is despite the availability of initiatives already in place to support the upward mobility of UK ratings. The JW Slater Memorial Fund, for instance, provides grants to merchant-navy ratings, enabling them to undertake training to become deck, engineering and electro-technical officers. 

Meanwhile, although a net 13% increase in UK ratings is expected by 2026, this figure is skewed by the high projected growth in the number of hospitality ratings. This segment is expected to rise by 30% between 2016 and 2026. Non-hospitality ratings, however, are projected to decrease 16% over the same period, according to data from the 2017 DfT UK’s ‘Seafarers Projections: 2016 to 2026’ report. 

Employment of UK ratings is concentrated in particular sectors: ferries (both short crossings and international), the offshore sector, cruise ships, some specialist sectors, the Royal Navy and the RFA, which is the largest civilian employer of UK ratings. There are very few UK ratings in the deep-sea trades and if there is to be a realistic prospect of winning those jobs back then career paths need to be fluid. The same applies to certification.  

Could it be that employers are looking in the wrong place or selling their jobs poorly?  Are they offering unappealing terms and conditions or are they under-selling opportunities? 

At next week’s event, panels will consider some of the ways in which seafarers’ career paths are changing in the UK. They will also look at plans to improve recruitment and retention, and a presentation from Hull Trinity House will outline the work being done to incorporate maritime skills and knowledge into the school curriculum for seafarers of the future. The event will begin and end with the views of seafarers, including a panel of female apprentices.

By identifying the challenges that companies face in recruiting and retaining UK ratings, the MNTB can better support and implement rating-to-officer training.  By addressing the issues directly with companies, we can obtain a clearer picture of the initiatives needed to raise the profile of ratings’ training, recruitment and long-term prospects.

But as well as challenges, there is also a positive story to tell about our ratings in this country. British seafarers undergo the highest standard of professional training and certification from world-leading maritime education and training centres. They provide an essential domestic resource required to populate UK’s maritime industries and thus maintain the UK’s position as a major global maritime centre. UK seafarers are a preferred nationality for expatriate positions in major overseas maritime centres and the UK has one of the highest career retention rates for seafarers. That’s a great foundation on which to base our work.

For more information contact:

Kathryn Neilson

Director, MNTB

020 7417 2824 / 07425 863810

kathryn.neilson@mntb.org.uk