Maritime sector a major job spinner

South Africa’s maritime industry is
forecast to create thousands of new jobs.

Samsa CEO Tsietsi Mokhele is confident
of the maritime sector’s potential to
produce jobs.
(Images: Bongani Nkosi)

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Bongani Nkosi

In the future up to 160 000 new jobs could be generated in South Africa’s commercial maritime industry, which is currently a largely untapped source of employment for locals.

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) said a vast number of jobs could be created in the coming years, but the country was in a race against time to develop the required skills.

“This industry can create tens of thousands of jobs,” said Samsa CEO Tsietsi Mokhele at a media briefing in Cape Town. “It can create between 140 000 and 160 000 new jobs.”

With a 25% unemployment rate, South Africa needs to take advantage of various opportunities that its sectors have to offer.

Through the New Growth Path (NGP), the government aims to generate up to 5-million jobs within the next 10 years and slash unemployment by 10%.

Mokhele believes the maritime sector can play a significant role in the NGP. He said the six-month-old national strategy has helped create a proper framework for the sector’s development to gear it up for job creation.

“Maritime remains a hidden sector that can contribute significantly to the NGP,” he said.

Samsa said it has started processes aimed at helping unlock job opportunities in the industry by raising awareness and introducing necessary policies. The government agency is currently developing a National Maritime Skills Plan and Jobs policy, which will be implemented once adopted by parliament.

It has appointed Deloitte, an international accounting and consulting firm, to assess the range of skills required to drive employment, according to Mokhele. “For us to develop jobs (in the sector), we need to develop skills,” he said.

Most seafarers currently working on South Africa’s freighters are Filipinos. This can change if more South Africans grab the opportunities that exist, Mokhele pointed out.

The country needs to groom skilled professionals such as law specialists, engineers and artisans, managers, maritime economy specialists and others specifically for the maritime industry.

“We’re looking at generating jobs both inland and at sea,” Mokhele said.

Working with universities

Samsa is lobbying universities to increase or introduce maritime studies. Mokhele said they’ve met with academics from the following institutions over the last few months: University of Pretoria, University of Johannesburg, University of South Africa, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Zululand and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

The Durban University of Technology and Cape Peninsula University of Technology, both located in coastal areas, are already leaders in offering comprehensive maritime studies.

“Universities are responding well to the sector’s needs based on their academic strengths,” Mokhele said.

Vital sector

With up to 80% of trade between South Africa and its partner countries being maritime-based, the country needs to escalate market participation to protect its interests.

“We’re disconnected from the world unless we have shipping ability,” Mokhele said.

Comprehensive skilling would also allow South Africans to take advantage of opportunities that exist on the continent, which is almost completely surrounded by ocean.

Most of the shipping to and from South Africa is currently done by foreign groups, Mokhele noted, which means local businesses also have room to ramp up the market share in future. “Our trade is handled on foreign-registered ships, which employ foreign capital and foreign labour,” he said.

Raising awareness in schools

Maritime career opportunities remain untapped partly due to lack awareness among South Africans, especially the millions living inland.

Samsa has teamed up with provincial government divisions to raise awareness among the country’s school pupils. Mokhele said his organisation is initiating maritime career awareness projects in all nine provinces.

The awareness programmes have already “matured” in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, both coastal provinces.

“Pupils need to look out for mass programmes of awareness that we’re rolling out,” Mokhele said.

“We try to let them understand what the sector has to offer. It’s full of adventure and one can make it in the maritime sector coming from any background,” he added.