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2020 Vision | Odwa Mtati
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2020 Vision | Odwa Mtati

20 Questions for Maritime Leaders in Africa

Name and Surname: Odwa Mtati

Company/Organisation: South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI)

Current position: Chief Executive


1.     What qualifications do you have and from which institutions?

BA (Vista University), BJuris (Vista University), MA Development Studies (Nelson Mandela University) 

2.     How long have you been working in the maritime industry?

Since early 2014, when I was appointed by SAMSA and Nelson Mandela University to lead the project of securing funding and establishing SAIMI from the ground-up.

However, my interest and involvement in connecting economic development with education and skills development has been a constant throughout my career, irrespective of the sector.

As CEO of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, I led strategic initiatives to relocate the manganese ore berth and tank farm from the Port of Port Elizabeth to the Port of Ngqura in order to support the city’s environmental health and tourism potential. This was part of what sparked my interest in the maritime sector.

3.     Are you a member of any professional associations? (Please list them if applicable)

Nautical Institute; IMAREst

4.     How many years are you from retirement?

Too few, and also too many. There is no such thing as retirement – I will always be working to make a difference.

5.     How would you describe your leadership style?

Leadership for me is about providing the compass and the resources, connecting the right people in the right places, and making it possible for people to do what they do best.

6.     What motivates/drives you in your daily work life?

To leave the world in a better state than I found it.

7.     What skill (business or pleasure) would you still like to master?

Sailing

8.     Have you spent any time at sea during your career?

No.

9.     What is your outlook for the maritime sector in 2020?

The maritime sector faces challenges to growth, as do all sectors in the current constrained global economic environment. There are also factors specific to the South African maritime sector – enabling legislation, compliance with international regulations and standards, incentives for investment, employment constraints and skills supply – that need to be addressed to enable the sector to grow.

From SAIMI’s point of view, the socio-economic potential of the oceans economy is clear. Here we refer broadly not just to shipping but to the potential for entrepreneurship, new venture creation and business growth, job creation and food security across the spectrum encompassing marine manufacturing, fishing, aquaculture, oil and gas exploration, and in improved and integrated environmental protection and management. All of these sectors hold potential, and we are excited to see progress in the more than 40 skills development-related projects currently on our register.

For example, in 2019, there were more than 2 400 beneficiaries of SAIMI projects and initiatives, including scholarships, learnerships, artisan training, skills programmes, seafarer development and youth development.

So, we agree that the maritime sector faces challenges, but we remain optimistic about the potential of the sector. We don’t believe the challenges are insurmountable if expectations and targets are realistic and informed by actual market needs and demand.

10.  What is your outlook for SAIMI in 2020?

We are optimistic. SAIMI is already delivering to some expectations, making a difference in building bridges between business, government, regulatory authorities and the education sector, and facilitating maritime education and training that is relevant to market demand and stakeholder needs. The start may have appeared to have been slow, but it was necessary to put the right people, systems, leadership and governance in place, and to build relationships and networks. We have deliberately put these foundations in place quietly, so as not to make promises that we can’t keep before we reach “critical mass”.

We believe that SAIMI has now built up solid and mutually beneficial relationships; and is supporting and initiating worthwhile and relevant programmes that are bearing fruit. Leadership, governance and a strong implementation team are in place, as is a clear strategic plan to guide the institute towards maturity and sustainability. All of this is positive for taking SAIMI forward as a relevant and impactful institute that advances maritime skills development towards meaningful employment, job creation and socio-economic growth.

11.  What geographical markets is SAIMI currently active in?

South Africa is our main focus and area of operation, and we have working relationships with organisations working on the African continent, such as the International Ocean Institute (IOI-SA), and internationally, such as the World Maritime University. Our goal is to develop a network of strong and mutually beneficial partnerships with local, African and international partners, that will benefit the development of the South African oceans economy.

12.  What are the current challenges facing the maritime industry?

For SAIMI, one of the key challenges is the mis-match between the skills required by industry, now and in anticipation of future needs, and the skills produced in maritime education and training. The Oceans Economy Skills Development Assessment for South Africa commissioned by SAIMI and presented at our “Forward Thinking for MET Excellence” conference in October last year, clearly showed that while post-school education institutions are producing maritime-related graduates in sufficient numbers, the types of skills being produced are not in alignment with market needs. There is an oversupply in some sectors, and an undersupply especially in technical skills and trade qualifications.

This requires not just a shift in the types of qualifications being offered or the content of curricula, but also shifts at policy and regulatory level to ensure that institutions have the capacity in terms of people, facilities and equipment to deliver the needed skills.

We envisage that shaping the skills pool in the maritime sector to match demand will also impact positively in the medium- to long-term on South Africa’s ability to respond to other challenges facing the maritime industry – eg adapting to new technologies, compliance with environmental management and risk mitigation measures.

13.  How should we be addressing these challenges during 2020?

The challenge of matching skills supply to industry demand is not one that can be solved overnight, but it does need to be addressed with speed and urgency. It requires not only action by businesses and by individual education and training institutions, but coordinated action at national level to unlock the funding and policy support to enable institutions to make the necessary changes in introducing new qualifications or adapting curricula, sourcing and hiring capable lecturers, and providing facilities and equipment to support the training needs.

Participation by industry and related organisations is also critical so that decisions on training programmes, qualifications and curricula are made from an informed basis of the actual current and future needs in the marketplace.

The Oceans Economy Skills Development Assessment report provides credible data on the current and future skills needs of industry and breaks down the current output of skills from education and training institutions. The next steps include engaging with maritime sub-sectors and industries to specify the skills needs in more detail and engaging with education and training authorities and institutions on these needs, so that we can begin making concrete progress on connecting skills supply and demand more effectively. This work forms part of the outcomes and actions stemming from the October conference and is being facilitated by SAIMI.

 At the same time, SAIMI and the Operation Phakisa Skills Working Groups that we coordinate – consisting of role players in industry, education and training and government – continue implementing the Operation Phakisa action plans and supporting and supplying the research and data (eg skills audits conducted in each of the focus area) for informed decision-making.

14.  How is SAIMI embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution and disruptive technologies?

SAIMI’s focus is on understanding the impact of these rapidly advancing technologies, and the skills that will be required by new employees in the maritime sector – as well as what is required to upskill existing maritime workers and professionals – so that we can advise education and training authorities and institutions on ensuring that these skills are incorporated into training programmes. 

15.  What changes do you anticipate in the maritime industry over the next two decades?

The two key issues we anticipate relate to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, automation, new technology, and how these will impact on the delivery of maritime services and products, and on the skills needed to operate in this digital era. The second is balancing possibly conflicting interests in the exploitation of oceans resources, and managing these ecosystems for sustainability and sufficiency.

16.  How relevant and effective do you think strategies such as Operation Phakisa, AIMS 50 and the African Maritime Decade are to help progress the continent’s Blue Economies (explain your answer)?

These strategies are highly relevant to South Africa and Africa in terms of ensuring that the continent derives social and economic benefits, and opportunities for human development, from its maritime resources. We need to see a continental blue economy that is sustainable and that maximises opportunities for people to achieve food security, sustainable livelihoods and business growth, in harmony with the environment. Oceans know no borders, so Africa-wide strategies are important for securing collaboration and cooperation in working with a shared resource.

However, strategies are only as effective as their implementation and we believe that more work can be done to highlight these initiatives, share information and secure active involvement of stakeholders and communities. It is particularly important, and largely neglected, for these to move beyond being government-focused and to facilitate the understanding and participation of industry.

17.  How can African countries collaborate to collectively benefit from the Blue Economy?

There is a need to secure the more active involvement of industries across countries, particularly businesses that operate in multiple countries. Also to use the existing structures such as the African Union and ensure that the blue economy is not merely an agenda item, but that concrete actions are in place and implemented. 

18.  If you could have a superhero power, what would it be?

Time travel.

19.  What would you like your legacy in the maritime industry to be?

To have grown SAIMI into the maritime industry’s “go-to” partner for skills development, research and innovation support. A SAIMI that is self-sustaining, well resourced, respected and the maritime sector’s central hub for knowledge, information and influencing capacity in a maritime education and training system that is effective and provides opportunities for people and business to grow.

20.  Please nominate another maritime leader (from the African continent) that you would like us to include in our 2020 Vision series.

Jean Chiazor Anishere – President of Women in Maritime Africa

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