What are Soft Skills and Why Are They Important?
The recent years saw a significant technological shift towards automation of various on-board processes in the maritime industry. While we tend to appreciate the resulting benefits of this shift a great skills gap is being created between the skills that our seafarers poses today and those required to safely and efficiently sustain the new operational environment onboard. This gives a significant rise to the importance of soft skills that truly go beyond what machines are capable of.
In this article we are going to define soft skills and will show you examples of how they are applied in the industry today. We will also take a look at how focusing on these skills will help your company adapt to the current and future progressively changing working environment on board.
What are soft skills?
In defining them, we would refer to an overlapping set of more intangible and non-technical skills that have to do with who people are, rather than what they know. Soft skills are characteristics, competencies and attitudes that provide information on how an individual can cope under pressure, manage oneself and other reactions towards adverse work situations and how one interacts with others at work.
The Collins English Dictionary defines the term “soft skills” as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.
To put this into context and based on our research some key examples of soft skills that are of great importance for the future of our seafarers include coordination, decision-making, self-control, resilience, perseverance and many more. These are examples of skills that we should now nurture in order to adapt our seafarers to the challenges that already exist today and will only continue to grow tomorrow.
Why are soft skills important?
The fact that the maritime industry is progressively adopting automation, artificial intelligence and rapidly heading towards autonomous ships, leads us to assume that the human element is becoming of lesser importance. This assumption is entirely incorrect.
In reality, across different industries, technology seems to create more jobs than it destroys. For example, in UK alone, between 2001 and 2015, technology had contributed to the loss of 800,000 jobs but it has helped to create 3.5 million more, with higher added value.
The same applies to the maritime industry and the fact is that the technological evolution is merely creating a shift in job requirements for seafarers rather than making them obsolete. Seafarers are now in need of a different set of skills, a set of soft skills, which are able to augment artificial intelligence and enable safer and more efficient operations on board.
Let’s take decision-making as an example. Would you say that your officers’ ability to withhold their final decisions until all the important facts have been collected and evaluated is important? Would you agree that your officers ability to take well-planned, structured and organised actions is a vital aspect of safe and effective operations on board?
The introduction of automation may have taken away the need for technical skills but it in turn put a high emphasis on the officers ability to process large amounts of information and make appropriate decisions based on the provided data. The decision-making skills of your officers is the key in ensuring that this is handled adequately and this is only one example.
How can soft skills be embraced on organisational level?
While many of the industries around the world have already adopted and benefited from nurturing soft skills, the maritime industry is only beginning to accept this practice.
A starting step in embracing soft skills and incorporating them into the crewing process, lies in assessing and understanding the skills that your crew possesses. The second step is actioning this data and incorporating it into your crew selection, promotion and training decisions.
Reputable organisations such as Intertanko and OCIMF have already embraced the concept of psychometric assessments by including it as a requirement in the TMSA. Many of the worlds Ship Owners, Ship Managers and Crewing Agencies are also starting to follow this example and their pro-activeness will most certainly pay off in the very near future.
Global leading experts in the field of crew competence management, Safebridge, foresaw this challenge and have dedicated several years to actively research and identify the soft-skills that are of utmost importance to the well-being of seafarers and the maritime industry. They have applied their findings to developing a digital crew assessment platform – SafeMetrix, which allows crew operators and seafarers to assess soft skills and take the first but very important step towards building high performing and modern crews onboard.
The resurgence in soft skills does not mean that the importance of ‘hard’ job-specific skills will fall by the wayside. But the importance of balancing these types of skills is only set to grow alongside the rise of automation. Embracing this concept and incorporating it into your crewing process is a key to safe and successful operations of maritime industry in the era of automation and AI.