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Gerardo Borromeo, PTC: “We need good people to move the industry forward”

At this year’s CrewConnect Global, we spoke to the leaders and stakeholders of this industry, and found out about their views on the changes in the maritime industry and their impact on crewing and seafarers.

Gerardo Borromeo, CEO of PTC Group and Vice President of the Philippines Shipowners’ Association, reviews the changes that need to happen in order for shipping to move forward.

Last year called on the industry stakeholders to collaborate more. Have you seen this collaboration happen?

“It’s continuing but more has to be done, really. The challenge is how do we speak outside the choir? I always call these industry gatherings the choir because we’re all convinced that we have to do many things, but how do we convince the greater public? How do we convince governments? How do we convince the greater populous that shipping moves the world and that shipping is indispensable?

Unless we do that, we will not necessarily get the better understanding of the regulations and the way regulation should be made to allow this industry to move forward more efficiently. It will be more difficult for us to have the kind of profile that will allow us to attract people, the best and brightest of future generations to come in. At the end of the day, this industry is about people and we need good people to move the industry forward and get the right solutions in place. So much is happening so quickly; we just need to know how to get our message across correctly and more effectively to the rest of the world.”

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the industry with regulations coming in.

“I think uncertainty will always be there; it keeps people on their toes. But it’s clear that shipping will always have a role to play. There’s no other logistics platform that will do all the heavy lifting. Shipping has done so for many years, and it will continue to do so if we move 90% of world trade. Imagine, there are 7 billion people today and there will be 9 billion people in less than 30 years. A lot more is going to happen in this world and there’s no way to connect the oceans other than through ships. So there will always be a role for shipping.

The question is how efficiently will those ships operate? And that’s why, at the end of the day when you talk about shipping, you have to talk about three things:

  1. the ship and everything about the ship,
  2. the people who will be involved with operating the ship whether from shore or on board,
  3. and how to efficiently carry the cargo.

Those three elements are in continuous dialogue. So yes, it may be a challenging environment, but it’s no different than navigating from point A to point B. It’s never a straight line. As captains from the industry, we know that we have to find our way through heavy water or heavy weather. We will find a way. There is a lot of resiliency in shipping.

But we shouldn’t wait until the problems arise and then react. We should be as proactive as possible. We should think ahead. How do we do that? We have got to get ourselves more comfortable with the different ideas that are coming. We’ve got to get ourselves ready for the changes that will take place. That’s because when we look at the future, it’s about the people, but it’s also about processes that need to change and even business models that need to change. It is about the kind of technology that we will adapt into this formula to get more. But I think the common element is people – how do we prepare the people for the future? As we get better people – people with creative ideas, people that know how to collaborate more effectively – then across the different publics and stakeholder groups that we have to work with, perhaps, we will find an easier way forward.”

When you say “people” I’m guessing you don’t just mean seafarers.

“Seafarers are one component of them. The kind of seafarer for the future is somebody who will have to understand the technology or the technologies that are coming forward very quickly. They have to understand the kind of leadership that’s necessary in that new world. They have to be comfortable with collaborative engagement.

The world is not getting any simpler. The world is a complex situation, whether you look at politics, economics, sociology. So therefore, our ability to deal with complexity is one of the key elements that will lead to a more successful solution in whatever endeavour we’re undertaking.

So seafarers must understand that it is not just working on board a ship, it is what kind of work we need to do. And hopefully the manual side of things can be more automated, leaving more time for analysis. But if you’re going to expect people to be more analytical then you have to train them from early on. Then you are talking about a whole educational system from kindergarten, through high school, all the way to college. But whatever form of education it is, it has to be more collaborative, more driven to understand the use of technology.

There is a word that has been used in the past: STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math. But I think the more appropriate word is STEAM. Let’s throw A for arts into it because it’s understanding the softer skills and understanding that we’re dealing with people at the end of the day, whether they are on board or on shore. It can’t just be all technology. The human side of things still has to prevail.”

How do you see regulations adapting to these changes?

“That’s a good question and the challenge is how do we get the governments to understand the industry? This is what I meant earlier. We need to be able to talk outside the choir to convince governments, the people working within governments, their representatives, and the people they represent how important the role shipping plays. If people understand that shipping plays an important role in moving the world, then all of a sudden you get a different perspective. They have to make it easier for ships to get from point A to point B. They have to encourage technological innovation. They have to encourage change to take place. Therefore everybody who is working in the industry will feel that we’re all aligned to make change happen in a more effective manner.”

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