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Blue economy traditional sectors contribute to about 1.5% of the EU-27 GDP and provide about 4.5 million direct jobs, i.e. 2.3% of EU-27 total employment. Emerging innovative blue economy sectors, such as ocean renewable energy, blue biotechnology, and algae production are adding new markets and creating jobs. This is without counting indirect and induced income and employment effects1.
With such a huge potential, it is no wonder that the European Green Deal envisages a central role to play for the blue economy “in alleviating the multiple demands on the EU's land resources and tackling climate change. The sector can contribute by improving the use of aquatic and marine resources and, for example, by promoting the production and use of new sources of protein that can relieve pressure on agricultural land”2.
To deliver on such high expectations, the blue economy is going to need a large pool of highly qualified and skilled professionals. Yet today, many blue economy sectors have difficulties finding the right people, which hampers their growth. The problem has got even worse after the COVID-19 pandemic, which took a devastating toll in terms of job losses in several blue economy sectors. It’s for these reasons that over the past few years the European Commission’s DG MARE has been working to solve this mismatch, with the objectives of:
Among these actions, two EMFF-funded calls for proposals were specifically dedicated to blue careers, with an aim to support cooperation projects between business and education, at local, regional sea-basin or transnational level. These calls also targeted concrete actions to close the skills gap, tackle unemployment and raise the attractiveness of blue careers among students and young professionals.
18 projects have been funded so far, some of which are still ongoing. To give a flavour of this support:
ASSESS was an education and training project focusing on careers in safety and security issues related to ships and offshore platforms. The project developed three high-level education and training courses: an advanced master for people involved from the design until the execution phase of a ship or an offshore platform; a course for professionals in charge of performing periodical checks of ships/platforms during their lifecycle; a refresher course for teachers of nautical high schools (“train the teacher” activity). The project was quite successful to the point that, despite ending in 2019, it spun off a summer school which is still taking place every year.
The blue economy encompasses a wide range of sectors; hence an equally wide range of skills is needed. Blue biotechnology is one of the sectors with the greatest potential for growth, and that’s exactly what inspired BBMBC. The project aimed to create a second year of a master degree on applied blue biotechnology, particularly in the health, nutrition and aquaculture domains. Students received academic and practical knowledge, in addition to soft and technical skills, to become proficient in production, extraction, characterisation and evaluation of marine molecules with biological activities. The master also focused on developing communication, language and management skills to help the graduates with their careers as scientists. Further, each student was assigned to a project led by a blue biotechnology industrial partner, so to acquire on-field skills and enhance their understanding of the sector.
CTP, on the other hand, is focusing on the fishing sector. The starting point is quite simple: if sustainable fishing is to be encouraged, then fishers need to acquire specific knowledge and competences in it. To this end, the project is setting up an international network of fishing academies, training institutes and sector representatives to facilitate the exchange of best practices. Country-specific courses are being organised in seven EU Member States; the lessons learned will serve as a firm foundation for the development of a common standard.
Moving from fishing to transport, MarLEM is developing a master course in maritime logistics engineering. The project stems from the consideration that there is a mismatch between the needs of the labour market and the output of educational institutions, as well as a general lack of communication and cooperation between education and industry to efficiently align supply and demand. To solve this conundrum, MarLEM is building a network based on the concept of “knowledge triangle”: industry will liaise with academia and government to establish a better framework for skills development and continuous professional updating. The course is informed by project-based and work-based learning: in the 1st year, each student will be guided to select a project to be developed during the 2nd year; in the 2nd year students will learn by working on the project they selected, applying it to the port-maritime reality.
As told in another cluster story, sustainable tourism is by far the largest sector of the blue economy. It is no wonder that some projects are seeking to endow its workforce with brand-new skills that can improve employability. PROCREW, for instance, focused on educational up-skilling for superyachts crew members. Among other things, the project offered yacht mariners the possibility of upgrading their certifications, allowing improved employment potential. NAUTILUS, on the other hand, is developing an innovative methodology for flexible, collaborative, work-based learning in the water sports industry. Nautilus aims to expand the boundaries of formal and informal education by bringing together a university, three water sports tourism SMEs, an IT company and an accreditation and certification organisation to work together and provide training and a professional qualification framework for upskilling.
Other projects have a sea-basin focus. CMES-WestMed devised a methodology for developing training programmes for seafarers and implemented three pilot training courses, including a teachers’ mobility programme. Its overarching objective was to establish a sustainable network of maritime education and training institutes, public authorities and private actors of the maritime transport sector in the Western Mediterranean. Once more in the Mediterranean, MedSkippers’ created sustainable professional networks to improve training and recognition of professional skippers of small commercial vessels with the ultimate goal of boosting charter and nautical tourism. MENTOR set up a Career Centre for the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea, with the aim to attract young people and experienced workers and fill existing skill gaps in maritime transport, cruise and nautical tourism, aquaculture and offshore oil and gas. MarENet, instead, focused on the Atlantic. The project sought to strengthen cooperation between maritime businesses and academia, designing and implementing a Northwest European Atlantic Maritime Network made up of training centres and industry partners from sectors such as shipbuilding, seaport logistics and fishing.
Beyond this sample of projects funded by the EMFF, out of a wider pool of blue careers projects, more will be funded in the future to empower current and future employees with the right skill set to address the challenges ahead and deliver on the ambitious goals of the blue economy. Building on the lessons learned from past projects, a new call for proposals will be launched later on in 2022. Further, a workshop that will take place on 22 March 2022 will help identify and facilitate opportunities for synergy and cooperation between the previous 18 EMFF blue skills projects and projects funded under other funding mechanisms. The workshop will consider policy developments, insights from projects through case studies and priorities for further skills development. It is also envisaged that the insights generated and outputs of this workshop will inform the 2022 call.
1 European Commission (2021) The EU Blue Economy Report, 2021. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxemburg.
2 COM(2019) 640 final
More info on blue careers & skills
Complete list of EMFF-funded projects
Total budget in €
|EU contribution in €|
|Advanced skills in safety, environment and Security at sea (ASSESS)||01/02/2017||31/01/2019||695,624||557,399|
|Blue Academy for Professionals of the Seafood Industry (BAPSI)||01/11/2019||30/04/2022||749,801||599,841|
|A Blue Biotechnology Master for a Blue Career (BBMBC)||01/01/2017||31/12/2018||833,010||666,408|
|Blue Education for Sustainable Management of Aquatic Resources (BLUE SMART)||01/01/2017||31/12/2018||399,491||319,593|
|Cooperation in Education and training for blue careers (CETBC)||01/01/2017||31/12/2018||676,933||542,346|
|Common maritime education standards in the westmed (CMES-WestMed)||01/01/2019||31/12/2020||623,819||499,056|
|Catching the Potential: Setting the Standard for Sustainable Fishing Training (CTP)||01/11/2019||31/10/2022||734,332||587,466|
|Developing Education and Employment Partnerships for a Sustainable Blue Growth in the Western Mediterranean Region (DEEP BLUE)||01/01/2019||30/06/2021||594,598||475,678|
|Sustainable entrepreneurship for stronger skills and new employment in fishery’s and aquaculture’s SMEs (Entrefish)||01/03/2017||28/02/2019||725,000||580,000|
|Blue Career Centre of Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea (MENTOR)||01/03/2017||28/02/2019||689,763||551,810|
|Atlantic Maritime Ecosystem Network (MarENet)||01/11/2019||31/10/2021||867,923||694,338|
|Maritime Logistics Engineering and Management (MarLEM)||01/11/2019||30/04/2023||810,791||648,633|
|Professional skippers in the Mediterranean (MedSkippers)||01/12/2018||28/02/2022||624,889||499,910|
|Education & Certification Framework for Blue Career in Water Sports Tourism (NAUTILUS)||01/11/2019||31/10/2022||964,757||771,806|
|Professional Crew training For Super Yachts (PROCREW)||01/05/2017||30/04/2019||684,738||547,790|
|Cross-sectoral skills for the Blue Economy labor market (ScienceDIVER)||01/11/2019||31/10/2022||1,059,143||847,314|
|Establishment of Eastern Mediterranean Regional Network: pooling, sharing, development of innovative face-to-face and digital training/mentoring tools for the maritime sector (Sea of Experience)||01/11/2019||31/10/2022||935,008||748,006|
|Teaching Entrepreneurship Advancing the Maritime Sector (TEAMS)||01/11/2019||31/10/2022||927,757||742,203|
Projects from other programmes