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The Future for Seafarers

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The maritime world descended on Manila recently for the CrewConnect Global conference. This was a chance to hear what experts in the industry think will be the future for those at sea.

MARITIME WORLDVIEW

CrewConnect Global is one of the world’s largest events for the marine human resources (HR) and this year was celebrating its 20th anniversary. More than 600 crewing industry professionals from across the globe headed to the Philippines to find solutions for recruiting, training and protecting the welfare of seafarers in the digital age.

One of the biggest questions was how to balance the commercial needs of shipping, against the increasingly obvious need to treat seafarers well. Was it a case of paying for the welfare of crew now, by investing in good conditions, facilities, and support for seafarers. Or pay later – through increased medical bills, poor crew retention, or even lost working time accidents and mistakes?

It may seem an obvious answer – not least because the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC2006) demands certain levels of welfare. However, it is still a debate which is rumbling on.

Perhaps the most high-profile debate was about the need for maritime training to evolve. There were many who called for The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978 to evolve and keep up with the times. What though, will that mean at sea?

MARITIME TRAINING CHANGE

Training at Sea

The Chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), Esben Poulsson, led the way, calling for a revision of STCW, as he felt it is seemingly being left behind by the number of employers who are providing additional training and assessments before the deployment of many officers holding STCW certification.

Amongst the criticisms of STCW is that it has seen the “dumbing-down” of shipping standards. Rather than creating high quality, professional seafarers, there are concerns that it has created a lowest common denominator effect.

There are also concerns that the level playing field, is actually set too low. So, it becomes a race to the bottom. The high achieving, good quality companies continue to aspire and invest, but there is a sense that they are always fighting against those who cut corners, and who see compliance as the high-water mark.

There is concern that there appears to be too little incentive to go above and beyond, and that has long been a problem. While others see that ultimately STCW needs to be re-tooled to make a thorough understanding of human performance issues the foundation for all maritime industry training.

FIXING THE GENDER IMBALANCE

Another issue from CrewConnect was the issue of female seafarers. Sadly, the shipping industry remains one of the most imbalanced in the world, though very slowly the situation is changing. According to the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, only 1% of the world’s seafarers are women.

Speakers stressed that the right person for any maritime job should be settled not by gender but by competence. However, women have all too often the worst paid roles and are found working in the least protected of jobs at sea.

Women at Sea

Time and time again, in many presentations it was stressed that women seafarers are continuously proving their worth in the industry. Gender should never be used as an excuse when it comes to employment onboard. It is the ability to deliver and perform the job that is the issue, not the gender of the seafarer.

It was also stated that shipping needs to understand that what is good for men is also good for women. Seafarers just have human needs, and when life is good onboard, then it is good for all.

RETENTION IS KEY

Seafarers today are increasingly attracted to sophisticated training, professional development, and long-term employment. That was according to a survey by MSC Shipmanagement, the Cyprus-based unit of MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company.

The results of their own biannual crew engagement survey, which polled more than 4,500 cargo-ship seafarers, showed how important it is to ensure that steps are taken to keep crews happy.

Amongst the key issues which seafarers said they appreciated most were the top-class leadership training which the company provides. They also appreciated the range of vessel-handling simulator classes they have access to, and interestingly were also very supportive of soft skills coaching.

While other keys to their crew retention figures were, punctual monthly wage payments, Internet availability and a culture of safety onboard ships. They also stressed a strong feeling of “belongingness” to the company. Something which is perhaps overlooked when seafarers move between companies.

WHAT CHANGES ARE NEEDED?

So, what are the big developments needed?

1. Performance Management: STCW has created demands, but so too have some charterers, especially the oil majors. It can be hard to keep pace with what is needed and wanted. With a system to monitor and manage training and attainment, then competence can far more easily become excellence.

2. Know your mariners: Rules can be slow to adapt, but the industry has the chance to get to know their crews and to ensure that they are trained to excel in the challenges facing them.

Seafarer Skills

3. Skills development: Moving from the competency to excellence model means appreciating how to get the best out of people. How we as an industry hone the skills that seafarers have, and of the best ways to train and educate.

4. Getting the mix right: Mixing cognitive and behavioural, letting the theory work in practice. Cognitive is based on knowledge; while behavioural training teaches people to apply their skills and acquired knowledge in all sorts of situations.

5. Going Beyond Compliance: When everyone is compliant, the challenge for companies is in how to move beyond that, and of how to make it pay. Shipping has long struggled with how to reward and recognise those who go above and beyond, but a new global training regime might hold the answers, or at least should.

The biggest change though is in how training is likely to be delivered – and virtual reality is coming to shipping, in a big way.

Virtual reality describes a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment which can be explored and interacted with. A person becomes part of a virtual world, immersed in an environment and able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions. It is possible to inject jeopardy and realism, but without danger.

We think VR has so much to add to maritime training – but it seems there are many other changes coming too. We would love to hear your thoughts, and to know what you think. What shipboard activities would translate best into VR? What changes do you think need to be made to STCW? Let us know your thoughts.