Women are an untapped source of talent, says UK shipping minister

John Hayes MP also wants the UK to lead the world in the field of autonomous shipping

john hayes lisw 2017

The UK’s shipping minister, John Hayes CBE MP, has said encouraging more women into seafaring careers will help the country improve its skills base, especially as shipping becomes more advanced technologically. 

“All of [the UK maritime sector’s] expertise depends on the endeavour of the workforce – the skills and the capabilities of legions of people who make the maritime industries what they are,” said Hayes, who was speaking at WISTA’s conference during London International Shipping Week on Monday.

“We have a skilled maritime workforce, but that doesn’t mean the workforce doesn’t need to grow and falter,” the minister continued.

Hayes said he is “determined that we can and must do more” to get women into careers at sea, which he said would help both the maritime industry and the wider economy to prosper.

“The ITF estimates that women make up only 2% of the world’s maritime workforce,” said the minister, “and those figures are replicated here in the UK too. Of the 14,350 officers in our country, only 3% are women. Only 4% of our technical officers are women. Of the 6,500 engine officers, only 1% are women. It means that talented women could be missing out on careers in which they could best use those talents.”

Hayes said he will be holding meetings with “senior maritime figures” and writing to heads of maritime training campuses to gain the industry’s proposals for addressing this gender imbalance.

The minister said he also plans to leverage the the 2018 Year of Engineering, a collaboration between government and industry, to encourage women into marine engineering careers. 

“Unless we can get the message broadcast loud and clear and persuasively to young people that maritime industries are a place of choice, a place where they can build their futures, and unless we can redouble that effort with young women and encourage them to take options and pursue paths that will allow them to take advantage of those opportunities, we won’t be doing what is necessary to provide them with what they deserve but also to provide our industries, our economies, with what it needs,” said Hayes, imploring maritime employers to work with him to provide opportunities and support the initiative. 

Technological change is inevitable and will shape the industry and the skills required of those it employs, he said, citing recent advances in vessel autonomy as an example. This will create demand for a more diverse set of skills, which fuels employment, according to the minister, who stated: “New technology breeds jobs.”

“Just this morning, I met Rolls-Royce, who are working on plans for remotely operated and autonomous tugs, ferries and cargo ships. Whatever the future holds, there will always be a demand for skilled seafarers, but the option to use remotely operated and autonomous ships on some routes is surely an option we must consider, a choice worth having,” said Hayes. “It could protect lives and allow crew members to be deployed to safer work on other ships or ashore.”

The operational efficiencies created by autonomy could help make coastal shipping more competitive and sustainable, and might lead to greater volumes of cargo being moved by ship, said Hayes. 

“I want the UK to become a global leader in the field of autonomous ships. At the IMO, we are already leading work to identify and deliver regulatory changes with regards to autonomous vessels and we know that we also need to understand whether our infrastructure is able to cope with the challenges and opportunities that these vessels will doubtless present,” he went on.

Hayes said the industry must lead the advance towards autonomy and that the expertise of the maritime sector would become ever more important in doing so.

“So it’s high time that the gender balance in this industry shifted too,” he concluded. “Let’s make 2018 the year the scales tip in favour of women in shipping. Let’s make a difference in that year of engineering that each and all of us can be proud of.” 


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For more information contact:

Holly Birkett

Communications Manager (content & digital)

020 7417 2868

HBirkett@ukchamberofshipping.com