What youth’s 140 essay contributions tell us about the maritime industry

The next wave of the maritime industry’s young talent overwhelmingly supports adopting clean and sustainable business practices, moving towards the digital age, improving conditions and opportunities for workers and increasing industry resilience and cooperation in the face of tumultuous geopolitics.

October 14 2019

A total of 140 qualified essays had been submitted in the Future Maritime Leaders essay competition by the deadline set at midnight on June 30th. Organized by the Global Maritime Forum, the competition aims to give students and young professionals a chance to voice their views in the debate about the (maritime) future – and companies a chance to listen. More precisely, the participants were asked to present their ideas on how the maritime industry can sustainably deal with the major threats and opportunities facing it.

From the essays submitted to the competition, it can be concluded that the next generation is deeply concerned about the environment and working conditions. Moreover, they believe that embracing technological developments will help decarbonize the maritime industry by creating greater efficiencies and access to new types of fuel. These efficiencies will then allow the industry to become more dynamic and flexible, thereby creating more resiliency in the face of ever-changing geopolitics. Finally, while some technological advances like automation can create problems regarding future employment, they also bring about improved conditions and opportunities, but only if comprehensive actions such as employee development are pursued.

The following paragraphs present an overview of the ideas put forward by the competition participants under each of the four large themes that emerged: digitalization (55% of essays), the environment (55%), geopolitics (30%), and the maritime workforce (20%).

Digitalization: enabler of progress and threat

The majority of competition participants believe that digitalization and new technologies are a great opportunity for the maritime industry that should be actively pursued. Their essays covered many cross-cutting topics. For instance, digitalization can increase efficiency and cost savings through technologies such as automation and blockchain, but this increased efficiency also contributes to decarbonization efforts, for example, by reducing waiting times for port calls and decreasing cruising speeds.

However, many essays also issued warnings about the potential downsides of digitalization. Several highlighted increased cyber security threats brought about by digitalizing, while others highlighted the dangers of automation to employment of current employees.

To address this concern, many essays touched on how digital technologies like virtual reality and online learning platforms can be used to improve the talent and expertise of current and future employees. If implemented correctly, these digital tools could help the maritime industry to advance the skills of its workforce so that it adjusts alongside the progress of technology. This not only improves the well-being of employees, but also their usefulness and efficiency.

Finally, digital technologies can make the maritime work environment safer. Several participants emphasized that relying more on machines statistically reduces both human error and human cost in the wake of an accident. Moreover, training through innovative methods such as virtual reality could yield more aware and capable employees.

The environment: hope towards effective action

Also, the majority of competition participants stressed that subjects concerning the environment are a major concern to the maritime industry. These essays covered topics such as pollution, recycling and marine ecology, but decarbonization was by far the primary topic. These exemplified that not only do the next generation see decarbonization and environmental protection as a serious responsibility of the maritime industry, but that it also provides unique opportunities for development and innovation.

Some of the proposed innovations included: air lubrication, wave energy, hydrogen fuel cells and biofuels. Several essays talked about the merits and applicability of LNG and the general consensus was that while it is better than current fuels, it should not be relied on as the sole energy provider and should serve more as a stepping-stone towards even cleaner energy sources.

These essays often highlighted that cost is by far the biggest inhibitor for the adoption of these cleaner energies. Therefore, a popular solution was introducing a carbon tax / carbon trading scheme. By increasing the price of carbon emitting fuels, clean fuels will become relatively more cost effective. Furthermore, the data on carbon emissions could be obtained through open source satellite monitoring.

The essays largely portrayed hope towards the future of decarbonization efforts in the maritime industry, because clean fuels and efficiency innovations are increasingly being developed and as production continues, prices will drop, and clean fuels will become viable options.

Geopolitics: a matter of flexibility

Many essays also took an interest in shifting geopolitical trends such as changes in trade dynamics, changes in national and international politics and governance over the maritime industry. The general consensus was that the maritime industry needs to be flexible and resilient in the face of these challenges.

Changes in this arena can be both unpredictably and swift. To highlight this point, the majority of essays discussed the recent US-China trade war. However, some essays pointed out that new opportunities can arise from such situations. For instance, a reduction in US-China trade can improve regional trade.

Thereby, the maritime industry needs to be able to shift with the political and economic changes. Often, the proposed solution to becoming more resilient was to improve efficiency, specifically through technology and digitalization.

In essence, digitalizing business practices and sharing data can improve the reaction and response times of the maritime industry, allowing businesses to more efficiently adopt new practices to comply with new trade and governance rules and regulations.

Other essays made calls for increased cooperation amongst national governments and with the IMO to deal with transnational issues such as climate change and enforcing environmental standards as well as creating sensible solutions for dealing with issues regarding flags of convenience.

Maritime workforce: need for a new kind of training and hiring

The last major area of concern revolved around the workforce of the maritime industry, picking up on themes of talent, diversity, leadership, health and safety. First and foremost, several essays pointed out how unattractive a career in the maritime industry seems. Consequently, the maritime industry loses out on potential talent.

The essays largely proposed two solutions to this problem. First to invest more in the current workforce through trainings, online learning and VR. This will help develop the talent and leadership of the current workforce, allowing them to keep up to date on their skills and knowledge. It also creates more advancement opportunities and a dynamic workplace, thereby making maritime careers more attractive to young outside talent.

Second, some essays talked about experienced discrimination based on nationality and gender that is prevalent within the industry. These essays pointed out that this type of discrimination actively inhibits the maritime industry from acquiring talent, especially considering that women make up half the population and potential workforce.

These essays often claimed that addressing this problem not only requires actively hiring with diversity in mind, but also requires making maritime careers generally more attractive. Another part of making careers more attractive requires investing in the health of employees as well as improving working conditions and the overall safety of the industry. This, along with digitalizing and addressing environmental concerns, will help improve the image of the industry, which in turn will improve the ability to acquire talent.

Everything is linked

The general consensus among the submitted essays was that technology, the environment, working conditions and the geopolitical environment are a top concern for the maritime industry. Moreover, these topics were often inextricably linked. For instance, often the proposed solutions for creating a cleaner industry, improving talent and being flexible included adopting new digital technologies. Moreover, being more inclusive was often seen as a way to improve the industry mindset, thereby allowing it to be willing to adopt new technologies, address climate change and improve working conditions.


We would like to thank all the future maritime leaders who contributed their essays to the contest. This article is based on the content synthesis of all 140 submitted, qualified essays and does not reflect the view of any one essay author. The data on is submissions by region approximate and based on the participant’s submitted information. The content of this article is the sole responsibility of the authors.

Read the winning essays:

The views expressed in this Insight are those of the author alone and not necessarily those of the Global Maritime Forum. Excerpts may be published with reference to the Global Maritime Forum.

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