Dive into our exclusive interview with Mr. Zacharias Siokouros, CEO of the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute (CMMI), as he shares his unique insights and experiences. From the institute's accomplishments to future goals and the challenges facing the maritime industry today, this conversation covers it all. Learn about the technological advancements, the importance of workforce diversity and inclusion, the evolving landscape of the maritime sector over the next 10–20 years, and gain valuable advice for those interested in pursuing a career in this dynamic and ever-changing industry.
Can you tell me a little about yourself and your background in the maritime/shipping industry?
I have more than 30 years of experience in the shipping industry. I graduated from the National Technical University of Athens as a Naval Architect and Marine Engineer. Currently, I am the CEO of the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute (CMMI). Previously I worked as an onboard engineering officer and then Technical Superintendent at a tanker operator, as a Safety Manager/DPA and a Technical Director for a major Cruise Line, and as a Maritime Safety and Security Lead Auditor, a Maritime Labour Inspector and a Trainer in major ship classification societies. I also served for a year as a Deputy Secretary General of the Cyprus Marine Environment Protection Association (CYMEPA).
Furthermore, I have served as the President of the Cyprus Naval Architects and Marine Engineers Association (CyNAMEA) for over 15 years. I was also among the founding members of the Maritime Institute of Eastern Mediterranean (MarInEM), a not-for-profit organisation aiming to promote Research, Innovation, Training, and Education. Furthermore, I was the initiator of the innovative EU-funded Lynceus project and the Mentor and “Sea of Experience” projects.
In 2014 the “Lynceus” project received the prestigious Global Innovation Award of Lloyds, while the “Mentor” led to the establishment of the “Blue Career Center of Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea”.
Moreover, I am a member of the Board of Governors of the Cyprus Maritime Academy of the University of Nicosia and served as a member of the Expert Group on Skills and Career Development in the Blue Economy of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, and the Advisory Council of the Oceanography Centre of the University of Cyprus. I am also a founding member of the Cyprus Foundation of the Sea (CyFoS), a cluster institution for the Sea established by the Cyprus shipping industry and supported by the Government of Cyprus, and I am also an active member of various committees of the Cyprus Shipping Chamber.
In April 2023, the Cyprus Marine & Maritime Institute celebrated its 4th year anniversary of its establishment. Can you please tell us the main accomplishments and the future goals of the Institute?
When setting up the Institute particular importance was given to ensure that the CMMI’s objectives and structure could facilitate the conduct of mainly applied research that meets both the needs of the industry and of the current socio-political requirements of shipping and the sea.
A privilege is the close collaboration we have with the ministries and the departments of the Cypriot government and the academic community but especially our close relations with the industry, both in Cyprus and abroad which proved to be of vital importance for the success of CMMI. We have already signed 43 Memorandums of Understanding and we currently have over 600 partners from 42 different countries.
The recognition CMMI has received from the local community but also from the independent organisation Thetius, which has recently ranked our Institute amongst the 20 most innovative institutions in the world together with well-established centres with enormous potential, gives us the strength and the reassurance to continue with even greater passion.
CMMI has now become an integral part of Cyprus and especially of Larnaka to transform the city as promised and cited in the proposal with which the
CMMI was financed.
Our vision for CMMI 2030 is to be the Cyprus Centre of Excellence in Marine and Maritime Research and Innovation, to continue its course and achieve even more international success in research, maintaining at the same time the spirit and dynamism of a start-up business and create successful spin-offs that will further enrich the respective ecosystem and economy. An Institute that will work closely with industry and support it scientifically when needed, contribute to the country’s know-how and infrastructure and especially with infrastructures that will allow Cyprus to play the key role it deserves, provide education and training in sectors where there is demand but also opportunities and finally contribute significantly to the transformation of society and the configuration of a new approach to entrepreneurship and innovation.
What are the main challenges facing the maritime/shipping industry today?
There are many challenges that the maritime industry must face today, but the most prominent one is the strict regulations imposed on the industry pushing it to find and adopt more sustainable practices and technologies. Hence, decarbonisation and the transition to low-carbon or zero-carbon fuels is at the top of the list of challenges that the industry is asked to find solutions for.
We are also in the new era of digitalisation and automation, and this is another challenge that the industry has to navigate in terms of cybersecurity, data management, and while addressing the shortage of skilled personnel, re-skilling and upskilling of the current employees is required to tackle these changes.
Moreover, we have seen in the last years an increase in global trade and supply chain disruptions for example the pandemic and the war, therefore the maritime sector must be ready to manage all unexpected volatilities while also managing the challenges and changes mentioned above.
That is the reason why at CMMI we are adopting a 360° approach and we are active in the fields of marine technology and decarbonisation, marine robotics, maritime digitalisation, marine observation and data collection, marine and coastal ecosystems, marine cultural heritage, maritime human element but also that of marine and maritime policy and regional cooperation to provide research and services as a one-stop shop for the marine and maritime industry and address the above challenges.
In what manner, technological developments have impacted the maritime/shipping industry and the competencies required from seafarers?
Technological developments have impacted the maritime industry intensely, transforming various operational aspects. For example, automation and remote monitoring technologies have improved efficiency and safety on ships but it changes the competencies required from seafarers as they now need to be skilled at operating and maintaining such systems.
The same concept applies to electronic navigation systems that have replaced the traditional paper charts, requiring seafarers to operate and interpret them.
Moreover, as discussed in the previous question, as the industry attempts to tackle decarbonisation and sustainability these have led to the advance of technologies aimed at reducing emissions and improving the ship's efficiency thus, seafarers need to be aware of the changing regulations and practices as well as managing the new technologies on board the vessels. Same as the increased digital connectivity of vessels has raised cybersecurity concerns, making it essential for seafarers to be trained in protective measures against cyberattacks.
As a result, seafarers in the ever-changing maritime industry need to have a diverse set of skills and abilities to adapt. Continuous training and upskilling are vital for seafarers that is why at CMMI we have the Maritime Human Element Centre and our Vocational Training Centre which address the above needs for employee skilling, reskilling, and upskilling to support the Blue Economy which must undergo a seismic shift to adapt to these changes.
How important is workforce diversity and inclusion in the maritime/shipping industry, and what steps are companies taking to promote it?
Embracing diversity promotes innovation, fairness, and social responsibility while enhancing decision-making all these providing a competitive advantage to the company that promotes them.
Companies in the maritime sector are taking steps to encourage and endorse diversity and inclusion. They are doing so by developing policies to ensure equal opportunities for individuals of all backgrounds and the recruitment and hiring practices are now tailored in such a way to attract diverse talent. Moreover, we observe companies shifting towards diverse leadership representation at senior management and board levels to integrate varied viewpoints in the decision-making process.
At CMMI, we are working to establish an anti-harassment policy for all employees, and we aim to have a gender balance on the evaluation committee during recruitment. We only choose successful candidates based on their expertise and not based on gender, race, or ethnicity. We have also established a Gender Equality Plan and DEI policies.
Of course, it is worth mentioning that while progress has been made and the shoreside is moving positively, the challenges are on the ship positions and that is where the industry needs to work harder to ensure the appropriate conditions for all genders.
To what extent does employee retention impact the maritime/shipping industry, and what measures do companies employ to cultivate enduring commitment and contentment among their employees?
Employee retention plays an important role as it can directly impact the stability, productivity, or even the operations of shipping companies.
To ensure commitment and contentment among employees, companies can employ several measures. Firstly, competitive compensation and benefits are the number one factors in attracting and retaining talented individuals. On the other hand, there are other important factors that employees also value in a company. For example, providing clear career development paths or career development opportunities through training makes employees envision a long-term future within the organisation. A positive working environment that promotes open communication, teamwork, and recognition also contributes to employee satisfaction.
At CMMI we strongly believe in transparent leadership that involves all employees in decision-making processes and recognises their contributions and we are investing a lot to ensure safety and flexibility in the workplace. That is why we have implemented flexible working arrangements and also special working schemes for working mothers.
Please tell us about the importance of assessments and skills testing in the hiring process for both onshore and offshore positions in the maritime/shipping industry?
Assessments and skills testing for both onshore and offshore positions are crucial in the hiring process and vital tools in the hands of employers. By using these tools companies are identifying the best candidates for the relevant positions leading to higher operational efficiency and minimising turnover. Their primary role is to enable employers to verify that the possible candidates have the technical expertise, competencies, and abilities to perform their job and to operate safely either on board a ship or in a shipping company environment.
Secondly, the tests assist in verifying that candidates have the necessary certifications and licenses required by the national, international and International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations.
The maritime industry is a dynamic one it requires various soft skills for instance adaptability, problem-solving, communication etc. this assessment can help the company evaluate the candidate on these skills or to identify any gaps and training needs that the current staff might need.
Can you tell us about the methodologies CMMI uses to make better people decisions?
One of the first actions carried out when the CMMI was set up was the design of a comprehensive competency framework that aligns employees’ behaviours with the Institute’s vision and culture. Based on this framework we use structured interview guides and psychometric tools, like the OPQ, to ensure that our candidates and employees have equal opportunities and to increase the validity of our processes.
How do you see the industry evolving in the next 10–20 years?
For many years the shipping industry has been a ‘traditional’ industry operating in the same way, but things are rapidly changing therefore in the next ten to twenty years, we can expect significant changes in the maritime industry.
The regulatory pressure with stricter standards related to emissions, safety, and labor put upon the shipping industry, will be the ones to also shape its future. To become more sustainable the industry will put decarbonisation efforts as a priority, and we can expect the adoption of alternative fuels and the development of hybrid or electric vessels.
Secondly, in an effort for the industry to become more efficient, safe and minimise costs automation and digitalisation will rise. Therefore, we expect to see the development of smart port technologies, remote monitoring, and even autonomous vessels. To add to this, as automation and digitalisation increase on board the ships and in the maritime sector skilled employees will be needed onboard and onshore.
Concluding, the industry is poised for major changes in the next 10-20 years but these changes as challenging as they might seem now, provide an opportunity for the maritime industry to become sustainable and more resilient.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in the maritime/shipping industry?
For someone interested in pursuing a career in the maritime industry I would first advise them to seek mentorship from experienced individuals to understand the different sectors and trends of the industry and to realise what career paths he/she will follow.
Secondly, as with every profession, relevant education through reputable institutions or maritime academies is very important. Therefore, acquiring a degree or certification will provide him/her with the practical and theoretical knowledge to succeed in this profession.
From my experience, a piece of invaluable advice that I can give to someone that wants to follow this profession and succeed is that continued professional development and
lifelong learning is the key to staying competitive in the shipping industry. One should never stop working on gaining and improving their problem-solving skills, critical thinking, communication, leadership, teamwork, and finally to be flexible to quickly adapt to the ever-evolving maritime industry.
But as I always say and advise people who would like to follow this profession, a career in the maritime industry is exciting, it can be rewarding but it is definitely demanding. For one to thrive and succeed he/she must be dedicated, determined, and passionate for this industry.