Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

In the United States, maritime academies and training centers for merchant marine officers and engineers are filled to capacity with excellent jobs awaiting every graduate... there is a dearth of deck hands...necessary for the successful operation of any vessel...many high schools in port cities are creating marine vocational training programs to meet this demand for crew for tugs, supply ships, cruise ships, and research vessels.

Jobs, jobs, jobs: this has been a litany intoned by politicians of all stripes and hues the world over as we face the consequences of changing financial structures and conditions, fiscal uncertainty, global unemployment, income inequality, ideological disagreement, and strategies for solution to the serious economic downturn of the past few years. The situation is dire, particularly for those with no reserves and no prospects. Governments, then, are looked to for the policies and actions, ideas and incentives to mobilize recovery. We look to central banks, legislatures, corporations, and leaders for the capitalization and investment to create employment, expand wages, develop new products, and satisfy the economic and social demands as an essential alternative to continuing worldwide uncertainty and unrest.

Maritime industry is both a signifier and contributor to our understanding and solution of this problem. Consider the extent of its reach as a global employer in such areas as shipbuilding, ocean transportation, port operations, shipping and cruise lines, offshore energy rigs and platforms for oil, gas, wind, and tidal, underwater pipelines and communications cables, associated construction and support services, coastwise transport, ferries, salvage operators, insurance companies, admiralty lawyers, exploration activities, and all the other endeavors at sea that, not always known, encompass the vast ocean contribution to the world economy and employment. 

Today, as a signifier, the ocean can inform us of certain realities that might encouraging. The construction of new ships and tankers, for example, slumped in 2012, but, according to company projections, Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. and Samsung Heavy Industries Co., the world’s two biggest shipbuilders, located in Korea, are forecasting a jump in orders for 2013, helped by rising demand for offshore drilling and production units. Hyundai is targeting annual orders for ships, offshore products and plant construction to surge 52 percent to $29.7 billion, and rival Samsung aims to win orders worth $13 billion, 35 percent more than last year.

Maritime trade and transport offer another window into recovery and patterns of exchange. According to the UN World Economic Situation and Prospects 2012 Report, “Maritime transport handles over 80 percent of the volume of global trade and accounts for over 70 percent of its value. Since 1970, global seaborne trade has expanded on average by 3.1 per cent every year, reaching an estimated 8.4 billion tons in 2010. At this pace, and assuming no major upheaval in the world economy, global seaborne trade is expected to increase by 36 per cent in 2020 and to double by 2033. While bulk trade accounts for the largest share of global seaborne trade by volume, the containerized cargo contribution grew more than threefold between 1985 and 2010. Developing countries are driving growth in global merchandise trade, with South- South links emerging strongly. Africa and Latin America are increasingly becoming suppliers of China’s primary commodity needs and, in return, China’s consumer goods are being exported more and more to these regions.” 

Can the world fleet accommodate this increase? Again, according to the UN Report, “In 2010, deliveries of new vessels reached a 36-year record high, increasing the world’s maritime carrying capacity by 11.7 per cent. The surge in deliveries following the deep economic downturn and trade collapse of 2009 reflects the prevailing time lag between orders and deliveries inherent in the shipbuilding industry. The massive order book of 2008, placed when the world economy and trade were booming, led to record ship deliveries in 2010 following the fragile recovery.”

Port expansion and operations must also be prepared to meet these trends. Recently, in the US, unions on both coasts have been engaged in contract negotiations, with threatened strikes suggesting possible supply problems for retailers in the slowly recovering American markets. Oil and gas companies continue to announce new discoveries and expanded volumes from existing wells, and the sudden arrival of significant new supplies of natural gas, from inland fracking operations and tar sands extraction, have suggested the US may be soon transformed from an energy importer to an energy exporter, reversing the direction of exchange but not diminishing the maritime requirements. And finally, we can expect almost everywhere the installation of major offshore wind farms, literally thousands of towers projected that must be constructed, delivered, installed, operated, supplied, and maintained by marine services, on shore facilities, and ships and boats of all sizes for all services.

This all adds up to much work to be done. In the US, the maritime academies, training centers for merchant marine officers and engineers, are filled to capacity with excellent jobs awaiting every graduate. At the same time, there is a dearth of deck hands and mates, differently skilled but equally necessary for the successful operation of any vessel. Suddenly, many high schools in port cities are creating marine vocational training programs to meet this demand for crew for tugs, supply ships, cruise ships, and research vessels.

Maritime industry may be a bell-weather of better things to come. Next time you look out to the ocean, look beyond the wind and wave and understand that what you are seeing is a massive system of global activity, vital economic exchange, and jobs, jobs, jobs.