Next month I will join a group of industry colleagues at London International Shipping Week to officially launch the Scottish Maritime Cluster, which aims to promote economic growth.
As one of the world’s biggest and most prestigious maritime events, it will be an opportunity to remind the global industry that Scotland is open for business and is a ‘one-stop shop’ for maritime needs.
Scotland boasts a rich maritime history and today, the sector contributes £2.7 billion to the economy and supports almost 55,000 jobs. The glory days of shipbuilding on the Clyde are far from what they once were, but we have strong and globally-recognised expertise, based on outstanding engineering capability, highly-skilled people and a drive for innovation, and ship owners have access to a wide range of world-class maritime services and support.
Forming the Cluster has happened gradually over the course of 15 months, bringing together over 40 organisations, from ship builders and naval designers to offshore energy providers and universities and training establishments. Its existence is a demonstration of the industry’s willingness to work together to improve business for everyone. Economic growth of the sector is the primary aim and a key target is a larger share of the multi-billion dollar global maritime market.
One of the biggest issues currently facing the industry is Brexit. It is too early to predict with any certainty the exact nature of the impact of Brexit. What we do recognise though is that it will present challenges, as well as opportunities.
Leaving the single market will remove EU directives relating to the maritime sector. New trade agreements will be negotiated with European countries and there is also an opportunity for new agreements to specifically address maritime requirements. In addition, new trade agreements can be formed with other countries around the globe.
The unknown details paint an uncertain picture, but one thing is certain: trade will continue. Almost 80 per cent of world trade is moved by sea. Maritime businesses in Scotland have a huge opportunity to grab a bigger slice of the pie and the most effective way of securing that is through industry collaboration.
Another key issue is skills development and industry-wide succession planning. As an industry, we need to improve our approach to promoting shipping as a rich and rewarding career path and attract future generations to the industry.
Scotland boasts world class maritime education institutions and training facilities. People around the world come to our shores to learn and train. However, we’re currently facing a future skills gap, mainly fuelled by lack of attention to developing a future workforce.
Scotland has a vibrant and active maritime sector, but the message needs to be reinforced that Scotland has the ability to deliver complex military and commercial projects, underpinned by a range of support services and a highly-trained and motivated workforce. We need to take a more internationally-focused approach to building and future-proofing the industry.
It is early days for the new Cluster, but we have clear and common ambitions. We are more powerful if we work together to place Scotland firmly on the global maritime stage.
Kevin Hobbs is chief executive at Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited