TAFE NSW has joined the effort to address the maritime skills shortage by training maritime workers who could help crew an Australian strategic fleet.

The institution is offering maritime courses at several of its NSW locations to help meet demand for maritime professionals and build the workforce.

TAFE NSW’s vision for maritime training aligns with the government’s proposal for a strategic fleet of up to 12 Australian-flagged ships, which the government could requisition in times of emergency.

A Strategic Fleet Taskforce launched in October 2022 released a report earlier this month which laid out 16 recommendations to government for establishing the fleet.

The taskforce in its report outlined several ways to support the training of Australian seafarers.

TAFE NSW director of Supply Chain and eCommerce Chris Greentree said there are a range of roles from deckhands, marine mechanics and engineers to logistic and warehousing co-ordinators that keep the supply chain moving.

“Port Botany, the Port of Newcastle and Port Kembla are important gateways for trade, with over 4600 commercial vessels docking in these ports each year,” he said.

“In the areas around Port Botany and in the Newcastle and Illawarra regions, marine transport professionals grew by nearly a third in the last 12 months.

“At TAFE NSW, people can get ahead of the jobs boom and kick start their maritime career choosing from a range of accredited courses providing in-demand skills and industry licensing to get ahead.”

Maritime Industry Australia CEO Angela Gillham said the report identified a shortage of diverse maritime workers as a concern for Australia’s economic sovereignty.

“Australia’s maritime training institutions will play a crucial role in skilling the workforce we need to capitalise on the expanding and diversifying activity in this sector,” Ms Gillham said.

She said the pipeline of maritime workers the institutions are building was crucial to the success of this strategic fleet and the Australian shipping industry.

“The gradual decline in our sovereign fleet over the past two decades means Australia is almost entirely reliant on foreign shipping,” Ms Gillham said.

“Recent supply chain shocks, natural disasters, and the critical maritime skills shortage have all demonstrated the need for the increased national resilience that an enhanced sovereign shipping industry will bring.

“Australia is a maritime nation, but without urgent action to promote a strong sovereign merchant maritime capability, we are not able to capitalise on the natural advantages that this brings.”

The Nautical Institute South East Australia Branch chair Commodore Kit Rynd said the strategic fleet initiative was a vital investment in Australia’s economic prosperity.

“A maritime nation like Australia needs a vibrant merchant marine backbone, and the strategic fleet initiative provides a catalyst for the future of maritime skills in Australia,” he said.

“Our island home and our entire region is dependent on seaborne trade. The pandemic, natural disasters and international tensions have amplified the need for maritime self-sufficiency to keep our inward and outbound trade protected from disruption.

East coast wind farms and the strategic fleet investment could be a boon for the Hunter region, leveraging a strong maritime heritage.

“The specialist labour requirements of modern ships warrants investment, and provides a strong, long-term sovereign skillset which is vital to the future of our import and export economies.

“As one of Australia’s leading providers of maritime training in both coastal and ocean seafaring, TAFE’s role is critical to ensuring the viability of the strategic fleet investment.”

The government launched the Strategic Fleet Taskforce to liaise with industry and stakeholders and advise government on ways to establish the fleet.

The government allocated $6.3 million to the taskforce in the 2022-23 federal budget, announced in October 2022.