Training the trainers
30 July 2007 Lloyds List
THE industry is facing a serious manning crisis, without a doubt. It has not appeared suddenly, like a tsunami, but has been forecast for many years, not least by the International Shipping Federation-BIMCO studies and their five-yearly updates.
These, carefully researched and enthusiastically flagged, have been full of facts and common sense, advocating the development of proper long-term strategies, urging people to train rather than poach and to face the realities.
I read somewhere recently, probably in a leaflet from lawyers trying to drum up business, that only 30% of us have bothered to make a will. This, it suggested, was because we failed to consider long-term realities. In that the inevitability of death is a racing certainty for us all, we are being downright irresponsible. An email address was helpfully included to remedy this irresponsibility immediately.
But these lawyers were absolutely spot-on. We will not even consider the mid-term realities we face, let alone the long-term ones. We are naturally short-term thinkers. Ask a ship manager about long-term manning strategies and he will tell you that he is desperate to find a second engineer with a tanker endorsement, Wärtsilä experience and a valid US visa for a ship leaving Singapore next Tuesday. A week is long-term for him and, yes, he will probably poach someone from the opposition.
Is he worried about the quality of this unknown soul whom he will be appointing to a critical post in a sophisticated ship? Yes he is, but he has to work with what he can find.
Is this chap typical of what is found in the industry? Absolutely, because with the expansion of the world fleet, and the fact that it is working harder than ever, the existence of all such people has become more frenetic, more hand to mouth, and more reactive to manning crises and shortages.
All the chickens have come home to roost, all the consequences of the long years when the shipping industry did not train or consider issues of retention or demography and ageing senior officers, are ending up on some wretched person’s desk.
You might say, what about the vast legions of Chinese officers emerging from these gigantic academies in Shanghai and Dalien? What about the great armies of cheerful Filipinos on whom the industry has been increasingly depending? What about the masses of Indian officers and all those other seafarers from what we like to term “labour supplying countries”? The countries of the former Soviet Union, which got us out of a pickle in the 1990s?
Well, as those who got beyond the executive summary of the ISF-BIMCO reports would have learnt, pure numbers are not the only issue.
Seafarers are more specialised than they have ever been. The old OECD officers are retiring in droves, but there is often a reluctance among their juniors to replace them. Why accept all the responsibilities of higher rank when you can get a very reasonable reward without them?
Moreover, people are at sea to make money, and when the nest egg has been built up sufficiently the seafarer is ashore for good, no hanging around doing a job that is largely endured, rather than enjoyed.
But, equally, competence has become a huge issue. There are all manner of people wandering about bearing certificates which purport to illustrate their fitness to be a mate or an engineer of a large, ocean-going ship. Many, it has to be said, are not worth the paper they are written on.
You have to be sorry for these people, who invariably have spent large sums of their families’ money at some maritime college in the Philippines but who, after completing the course, find their qualification more or less useless. And yet the shipping industry is crying out for officers. What is going on?
Some interesting clues come from David Dearsley, secretary-general of the International Maritime Employers Committee. His 120 members operate 6,500 ships and employ 150,000 seafarers, including 52,000 from the Philippines.
Many people think IMEC is merely a negotiating body designed to argue with the International Transport Workers Federation, but the issue of crew quality and training is a major matter for these employers. In 1998 it established, with the International Maritime Training Trust, an independently administered fund designed to provide grants and assistance, where they would do the greatest good.
From a modest beginning, the trust has disbursed grants exceeding $6m. Up to 2004, explains Dearsley, the money was largely spent on “kit”, with grants for lifesaving training equipment in the Philippines and Poland, English language laboratories in various locations, marine safety equipment, deck, engine room and liquid cargo handling simulators, various navigation training hardware and software and a range of free courses on Marpol topics. Welding equipment and advanced training was also supplied.
A review of how the money was being spent was carried out in 2002-2003 and, as a result, the emphasis changed to educational projects rather than the provision of hardware. This swing from the hardware, says Joseph Thullier, secretary of the trust, was very important as it enabled the fund to address what was already recognised as hugely critical in the issue of instructor competence.
It was something that the IMEC members already recognised. They knew the value of those bits of paper borne by all those sadly unemployable young people in the Philippines. It was recognised that a lack of teaching skills in so many of the colleges was a major factor. And, as for the simulation equipment installed, here too there was poor quality teaching, with much of this expensive equipment under-used.
There was a need, said Capt Thullier, to “get back to basics”, and the IMTT review identified the need to upgrade teaching skills and do something practical about the educational deficiencies of the Philippine secondary school system.
A system of academic “ramping” was devised — which might be described as remedial work — in which intensive training courses ensured that trainees at the Philippine maritime academies were up to scratch. Leadership had been identified as an important issue and leadership courses for both ratings and officers were devised.
A range of core courses, designed to add value to the people who undertook them, was developed. These included bridge team and resource management, electronic charts, security, firefighting, tanker familiarisation and liquid cargo handling specialist training and risk management and accident investigation. All would build quality and competence and all would make those graduating far more employable to owners seeking to recruit and retain high quality personnel. Co-operating with IMTT in this development have been the Dutch Maritime Institute Willem Barentz, Warsash Maritime Academy and Unitor.
Warsash had been involved in the 2002 review of IMTT projects, when it was concluded that the tools for training were not being used in the Philippines academies as well as they ought to be. Michael Barnett, head of post-graduate studies and research at Warsash, points out that the skills of the teachers are crucial, and there was a need to make lecturers at the Philippine institutions, who sadly are not as “revered” as they ought to be, more professional.
A range of options was reviewed which included the delivery of IMO model courses and improved technical training. However, it was concluded that what was most likely to succeed was a post-graduate certificate in maritime education which would upgrade the professionalism of the lecturing staff. Prof Barnett suggests that such a course “creates the conditions for learning”, helping to instill the view students are more important than the lecturer and learning to employ the tools for training more effectively.
The course has been validated in the Philippines and is a sort of two way process, involving visits from Warsash staff to the selected Philippine academies, and with visits from Philippines lecturers undertaking the course to Warsash.
Prof Barnett is sensitive to the significant educational cultural differences between Britain and the Philippines and has, he said, “mixed and matched” course material for the different cultures. The year- long course will provide for practical teaching experience and interaction with students to underpin theory, part of the purpose of the visits being to see people operating in their different habitats.
It will be backed up with electronic distance learning material, a virtual learning environment in which there will be elements of face to face contact, and synchronous discussion groups. In terms of content it will resemble that of an ordinary masters course.
Of course, only a limited number of Philippine lecturers will be able to undertake this training, at least at first. They will be the crème de la crème, but hopefully will be part of a ripple effect which will see the best practice they have learnt spread throughout their institutions and beyond. Considerable effort has been taken to ensure that those undertaking this new course have the full support of their superiors, as there is nothing more depressing than to discover that such new knowledge is unwelcomed at the conclusion of a course. The course had to be sold to the college principals, who hopefully will be in a position to benefit from the results.
The course, says David Dearsley, is an industry first, but it is hoped that, being accredited best industry practice, the way will be clear to widen it to other countries. It also demonstrates what can be done if proper resources and funds can be applied in such a fashion to upgrade education and start the process of providing the higher quality seafarers, which the industry so evidently needs.
In its way it is a perfect example of the fact that you get out of education exactly what you put into it. It also illustrates the sad truth that if the shipping industry really wants to see better quality seafarers aboard its ships it has to be more closely involved with what is going on in the colleges in the countries where the education is undertaken.
It is too late to wait until the end product, the graduates, emerge and then to decide that they do not come up to scratch. IMEC and the IMTT are the vehicles for this involvement and have done a great deal.
Others merely complain at the end product, subcontract all their manning responsibilities to others and wonder why they they seem to have employed incompetents and the master is afraid to go to bed at night. It is also looking a little long term, which is very important, if a trifle unusual