In Europe today, the aquaculture industry employs approximately 80,000 staff, and 120.000 derived staff. The EU seafood market sources 10% of its fish from EU aquaculture, 25% from fisheries and 65% from imports (SEC 2011, 883). Norway, our largest producer, provides 35 million salmon meals daily.

Globally, fish represent 50% of all consumed protein and levels are anticipated to rise to 65% by 2030, reflecting a growth rate of 6.6% per annum. Conversely, despite ambitious national targets for growth in the EU, the industry is stagnant. The lack of personnel with the correct skills and qualifications is becoming widely recognised as one of the main obstacles to sustainable growth in production.

At the farm level, throughout northern and southern Europe, workforce development challenges are exacerbated by the remote rural location of many facilities. Consequently, the reliance on local recruits is growing, many of whom are inexperienced and unqualified, changing the workforce profile. This is typified by Norway, where only 50% of their salmon husbandry staff has completed any relevant education (SINTEF, 2014). In some countries, such as Scotland and Norway, where migrant labour is prevalent, the language and culture barriers to learning are intensifying. Whilst the traditional full time college VET route to entry is well established and remains important to some, most recruits have no way of accessing relevant formal learning, skills development and qualifications. Concurrently, the industry is becoming increasingly sophisticated leading to specialisation within the workforce. However, the lack of specialist training in operating the more advanced equipment and technologies has led to inefficiency and fish losses.

When trying to navigate available aquaculture courses and qualifications, potential European learners and industry face an impenetrable labyrinth, hindering the selection of suitable VET provision. The establishment of ‘qualification equivalencies’ between countries is most problematic, inhibiting the mobility of potential aquaculture learners, new recruits and qualified labour. Concurrent with a general lack of flexible and accessible work based VET; the industry has been catering for their workforce development needs, relatively unassisted. Company based training schemes, which are not quality assured, and do not lead to nationally recognised certification, have proliferated.

Therefore, BlueEDU will study current and future skills needs, identifying any skills gaps within the European aquaculture labour market. In addition, the demand from industry for workplace learning will be evaluated, for specific farmed species and high priority ‘occupational profiles’. The industry’s appetite for innovative ICT enabled learning that can enhance digital skills through the use of modern ICT tools, will be gauged, recognised and nurtured. Concurrently, the ‘current state’ of VET supply in each country will be revealed, to determine the sector’s capacity and capabilities for providing innovative, work based VET.

Through its engagement and research activities, BlueEDU aims to catalyse a concerted effort, between industry and the VET providers, to equip the workforce with the knowledge and skills required to ‘do their job’ competently, as evidenced by the achievement of relevant and trusted qualifications. Consequently, the aquaculture industry will be professionalised, raising its profile within the ‘blue economy’, in response to Blue Growth (European Union, 2012).

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use, which may be made of the information contained therein.