To describe the global maritime industry as competitive is a gross understatement. According to Akanksha Batura Pai, head of strategy and growth at Sinoda Shipping Agency, the main edge that Singapore has in staying afloat is the “strong network structure” built for maritime stakeholders. She said the nation’s public-private partnership law and tripartite alliance are her best assets as the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) is effortful in aligning everyone to the same goal, moving the sector in the same direction, and within the same timeframe.
Akanksha would know the support infrastructure well; after all, she is also the chairperson of Singapore Shipping Association’s (SSA) Young Executives Group (YEG), and International Maritime Organization’s Goodwill Maritime Ambassador representing Singapore.
MPA’s foresight elevates Singapore’s functionality as a global hub because, “In this industry, you have so much happenings; you may have R&D (taking place on) one side; you will have opportunities happening on the other; logistics here and then crew change there. The sector is well-connected yet everything happens in silos – they don’t really know what the other person is doing,” Akanksha explained. “We are highly integrated but fragmented at the same time.”
Therefore, each stakeholder has to operate at their maximum capacity and investment for the sector to flourish and this is not practical nor effective.
The need for alignment is also utilitarian as “70 percent of Singapore’s workforce is employed in small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) so no one can afford to be left behind.”
How MPA plans to ensure success in this, according to her observation, is driven by three pillars: digitization, decarbonization, talent management.
“When it comes to the digital space, MPA has done a lot to level the playing field. For example, there is a lot of collaboration with SSA and we have a digital transformation committee,” Akanksha began. In addition, initiatives by MPA, like PIER71, have accelerator innovation programs which fosters a healthy environment for creativity and transformation for the purposes of digitization.
PIER71 is a joint initiative between MPA and the National University of Singapore to encourage Singapore’s maritime industry to adopt and venture into new growth areas through working with technology start-ups.
As for the decarbonization front, Akanksha applauded the Global Center for Maritime Decarbonization which is “a collaboration with a number of larger companies to bring them together to partner and share data to maximize transparency and integration.”
“This knowledge can then be shared with the industry as well which is important as the entire industry may not be fully aware of the direction that energy transition is headed towards,” she said.
“There are a few prominent goals: searching for alternative fuels; the waters to be fully electrified by 2030; net-zero emission commitment by 2050. Looking at them, we need to have collaboration because there are so many smaller ship holders and ship owners, alongside numerous large and small fleets, which require crucial alignment in attaining our sustainability goals.”
In that regard, Akanksha commented that Singapore is doing well in bringing together the industry and strengthening the accountability of the stakeholders.
“Lastly, when it comes to the pillar of talent acquisition, development, and retention, there are initiatives, such as the YEG at SSA, which has a membership of over 500 companies,” she continued. “As long as you are below 45, which is a wide age range, you can be a member to tap into the network, exposure, and education enjoyed in the group.”
Akanksha explained why such networking communities are instrumental in developing the talent pool and industry attraction. As chairperson, she realized that many students and scholarship holders lack “basic knowledge and awareness of the industry.”
“Some of the interview questions I get are so nascent. They will ask if one needed to be a seafarer or be on board a ship in order to be in maritime. If there is no awareness of industry requirements, career pathways and trajectories, professional progression, salary structures, amongst many other things, you are not going to draw the next generation of talent,” she said.
“There is too much knowledge asymmetry. The solution to this would be to strengthen the outreach to higher learning institutions where there are leaders who have spent years in the field to provide guidance and insight,” Akanksha commented.
Attracting women to maritime industry
She then ventured into the issue of female leadership and the importance of attracting women into maritime. The benefits are vast, Akanksha felt. Women operate, think, and have a different form of leadership style. Bringing out ‘feminine qualities’ is what changes the game.
“There are many studies that indicate that there is higher profitability and innovation when there are more women on the board of leadership.” She encouraged women who are skeptical about their roles and prospects in maritime to deliberately be themselves and refrain from being a cookie-cutter to fit the mold.
That is the only way to succeed in a male-dominated industry. Akanksha shared that she is not hard on herself, and understands that self-doubt and imposter syndrome are very real struggles.
“Everyone is learning. Perhaps we peg ourselves against a higher level to break through all the barriers.”
How Akanksha remains firm and stable as a female leader is through constant upgrading – not just in technical skills but soft skills as well. “You want to be a more efficient person and more intentional with your time.”
“Sometimes life takes so much out of us. Our careers take so much out of us especially when we’re younger. But I think it’s important to carve out time for yourself, whether it is for self-improvement or self-care. It is extremely important to invest in yourself to prevent burnout,” she advised.
Photo credit: iStock/ Koh Sze Kiat