What technology is the next generation of seafarers expecting?
Millennials are everywhere, we are now the largest generational cohort in the workforce and maritime is no exception. We have infiltrated shipping companies around the world with our skinny jeans and snowflake attitudes, both at sea and ashore. But just as those of us in the “me me me” generation are considering moving out of our parents’ homes, there is a new kid on the block.
Those born in the late nineties and early noughties, known as Generation Z, are now entering the workforce in droves. This new generation has no memory of a time when the United States was not at war with terrorism, they saw their parents go through the 2008 financial crisis, and they don’t remember the days when you had to make a choice between being on the phone or being on the internet. To celebrate the arrival of our young colleagues into our industry I’m taking a break from hand-roasting coffee and shaping my beard to ask what technology will this new generation of seafarers expect?
While most of us are most comfortable double-clicking on our desktop applications, Gen Z are the mobile-first generation. According to research by Google, most Gen-Zers were given a mobile phone by the age of 12 and they use their smartphones more than any other electronic device.
Developing the technology for a mobile-first workforce is an investment, but being able to attract seafarers with inherent technological expertise makes it a worthwhile tradeoff. At Intelligent Cargo Systems we are one of the first companies in the world to give smartphones to seafarers for operational use, and the feedback has been positive across the generations.
Today, there is a lot of talk going around about the effect the introduction of automation could have on the next generation of seafarers. While automation will kill many jobs, history has shown us it will create far more. Seafarers are problem solvers and the basic principles of navigation and seamanship will always be relevant. The seafarer of the future could spend the majority of their career ashore but whatever the context of their role, their skillset will be invaluable.
There is an aspect of modern seafaring that could and should be automated as soon as possible; admin. There is currently an overwhelming administration burden placed on the crews of modern vessels. Automation is already removing admin and data entry roles from other industries and the next generation of seafarers won’t be expecting endless paperwork and record keeping.
Despite the success of Pokemon Go, augmented and virtual reality is still in its infancy. That said, it is already having an impact on seafaring. Startups like SeaBot XR are now making it possible to deliver virtual reality crew training content direct to people’s smartphones. Further, augmented reality has been trialled by Wartsila for remote support for engine troubleshooting, allowing engineers on board to receive advice and instructions in real time while keeping their hands free to work.
According analysis by PwC, 49% of all people in the United States own a wearable device, of those 45% own a fitness device. The wearables market is already booming, but Gen-Z are tipped to become a massive consumer segment for wearable wellness technology.
In 2019 student deals site UniDays published the results of a survey of 12,000 Gen-Z members. They found that 72% of Gen-Zers say managing stress and mental health is their most important health and wellness concern, 60% believe getting enough sleep is important, and 68% say eating a well-balanced diet is critical. This could present some issues for an industry trying to attract young people into a high stress career, full of shift work, where they have no control over diet.
There are a number of welfare groups and technology providers exploring the application of wearable technology at sea. The combination of a health conscious demographic group that grew up with wearables and the obvious insurance implications make this technology seem an inevitable choice for the future.
You may have read in the news recently about a spate of school strikes that swept the globe. It wasn’t the teachers striking but the students. Their cause? Climate change. Spearheaded by teenage activist Greta Thunberg the school protests culminated in March when 1.4million students around the world went on strike on the same day. While the issue I cared most deeply about when I was in school was keeping my Tamagotchi alive, Gen-Z has been described as the activist generation.
This isn’t about a single technology, but the fact that this generation will want to work in a clean shipping industry. Those companies who invest in reducing their environmental impact on the world will be able to attract the best, those who don’t may have a strike on their hands.
As a final thought it’s important to note that generational stereotypes can be damaging. I say this as a member of the generation often unfairly described as disloyal, entitled, and lazy. There are exceptions to every generation and we don’t know exactly how technology will progress in the next few years. We do know however, that as industry begins to embrace transformation, this digitally enabled generation will help accelerate our efforts to create a more efficient and sustainable maritime sector.