Technology continues to rapidly evolve and transform the way we live and work. Every day, it seems there's a ground-breaking innovation that has the potential to revolutionize entire industries.
In the marine industry, new technological advancements in remote and autonomous operations are, undoubtedly, a game-changer. The integration of automation, robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence is helping to reduce carbon footprints and optimising operations – paving the way for a smarter, safer, and more sustainable era. New technologies are helping to create a new offshore eco system with huge opportunities for a new way of working.
However, the success of the next wave of innovation relies heavily on developing the required future workforce, in addition to managing the development of new regulations that are required to cover the legal aspects of uncrewed offshore operations. To keep pace with unstoppable technological advances, it’s essential that the maritime sector develops comprehensive strategies to manage these factors.
Managing people change
Technology is driving a significant shift in the marine industry, with advancements in ship-to-shore connectivity and remote operation techniques allowing personnel to move from being based offshore to being based onshore in remote operations centers. The emergence of advanced technology, data collection and processes can now be done from any location, saving significant running costs and improving quality of life for many industry workers.
This transition needs to happen to support a move towards more cost-effective operations, both in general seabed mapping as well in inspection and maintenance of offshore infrastructure. However, it does represent a big lifestyle change for maritime personnel who are used to spending weeks at a time out at sea. From our experience transitioning roles, new ways of working and our own workforce, compassion and understanding from leadership teams will go a long way to support people through this transition.
For many offshore operatives, this will represent a positive change: work will be safer, work/life balance will be improved, and teams will be diverse, enabling women to embrace a role that would otherwise have been challenging when considering family life.
However, to ensure a successful transition, it is essential for the industry to prioritize training and support. Employers can play a critical role in this regard by providing comprehensive information and guidance on their new work environment. By doing so, employees can feel more confident about the transition process.
Strategy Director, Fugro.
Finally, anticipated industry growth may lead to a major expansion in the workforce. In the European Union alone, 650,000 people work in wind and solar energy, and this figure is set to double in the next eight years, according to trade associations SolarPower Europe and WindEurope. This growth presents a huge opportunity to create a more robust, happier and diverse workforce; however, companies must manage this growth carefully and in an inclusive manner in order to preserve company culture and retain long-term employees who possess invaluable knowledge and experience.
Managing regulatory change
The current state of maritime law is a major barrier to progress. The laws and regulations governing the industry have been developed over centuries and are spread across countless documents and law books. As a result, it will take years to introduce and amend legislation, leaving marine law struggling to keep pace with the rapid rate of technological advancement. We recently experienced a major breakthrough when we received our Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) certification for our USV operations in UK waters – but this certification process did take close to two years to complete.
Although uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) have immense potential, it has been less than a decade since their commercial introduction to marine operations, and most marine authorities have yet to pass binding legislation. This has resulted in some authorities implementing temporary policies. This may involve restricting the operational area or requiring an accompanying guard vessel. To date, these approval processes are happening in lengthy procedures and on a vessel-by-vessel basis, thus impacting the anticipated added value of remote and autonomous operations for the industry and the much needed drive towards a more sustainable, less carbon intensive marine environment.
As we look ahead, collaboration between the industry and regulators will be crucial. All stakeholders must work closely together to navigate these changes and create a framework that safely facilitates the integration of cutting-edge technologies.
With the emergence of advanced technologies in remote and autonomous offshore operations, the maritime industry can now produce seabed and asset information in a faster, safer, more sustainable way, thus facilitating more efficient, cost effective and well-informed decision making. However, to fully reap the benefits of these technological advancements, the industry must first lay some important groundwork.
The success of the industry in the years to come will depend on its ability to balance technological advancements, regulatory compliance, and its future workforce effectively. This is a big task that requires a significant shift in mindset and approach. Companies must embrace change and be open to new ideas and ways of working – and expert consultants can also help to manage change effectively by providing insights and guidance to companies navigating this transition.
The industry's ability to keep pace with technology is not just a task but an opportunity. By embracing and innovating with new technology, companies can improve their operational efficiency, reduce their carbon footprint, and create a more sustainable future.
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Ivar de Josselin de Jong, Strategy Director, Fugro.