Boosting seafarers’ skills: Key considerations for the future of training

21 March 2022

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​It is known that STCW Convention regulates seafarer training, however, it’s not keeping up with the pace of technological change. Therefore, shipping should shift towards essential skills for the future including general IT systems and networking; system-specific training; better academic and soft skills; multidiscipline seafarers; and cyber security.

Apart from investing in skills for those who struggle with a transition to a more automation-heavy industry, there will be an ongoing need to invest in softer skills that impact the overall wellbeing of those at sea in the near future. In comparison to hard skills, soft skills are more challenging to develop, since they have little to do with knowledge or expertise. In this landscape, soft skills education starts from top-management, with seminars and virtual training being a useful asset.

“Soft skills are here because technology cannot replace soft skills. There are soft skills that are needed, such as teamwork, problem-solving,…explained Mrs. Areti Mystiroudi, HR Business Partner, Marine Traffic said during the latest CAREER4SEA Forum, in December.

“People have changed. It is a different generation, so we need to deal with them accordingly, and move with the time. And this is why soft skills are extremely important to deal with people nowadays,…added Capt. Bikramjit Sandhu, Crewing Recruitment Manager, Euronav.

Speaking of soft skills, emotional intelligence, communication and critical thinking, have an incredibly important role in the future of seafaring. According to Inmarsat, today’s seafarers are self-selecting: anyone who can pass the exams and has no disqualifying medical conditions can go to sea. In the future hi-tech world of small crews, it is possible that interpersonal skills will be as important as technical skills. The combination of integrated departments and smaller crews will make teamwork indispensable.

To remind, the World Economic Forum has identified the following top 10 skills asked for 2020, which turn out to be mostly “soft skills”:

  • Complex problem solving

  • Critical Thinking

  • Creativity

  • People management

  • Coordinating with others

  • Emotional intelligence

  • Judgement and decision-making

  • Service orientation

  • Negotiation

  • Cognitive flexibility

Following the digitalization and automation era, seafarers supervising automated systems could experience “mental underload”, making them slow to respond to sudden changes such as alarms or equipment failures. Lack of situational awareness, overconfidence in systems, and skill fade threaten reliability and performance in automated systems, which could impact safety on manned autonomous vessels.

To better explain, situational awareness is defined as an understanding of what has happened, what is happening and what might happen. More specifically and in the context of complex operational environment – e.g Bridge, Engine Control Room – awareness relates to a person’s knowledge of task-related events and conditions. Additionally, self-awareness is the ability to know your personal limits, strengths and weaknesses and how to manage these in the workplace. Therefore, a manager should provide adequate resources to develop interpersonal skills of employees, including self-awareness practices and situational awareness technics.

In addition, the technology group Wartsila, explained that the automation of processes onboard calls for a set of skills that goes beyond what machines are capable of; non-technical skills, the so-called “soft skills”. The industry has tried to manage that through competence; however, it is the performance of the crew that also plays an essential role.

The first obvious step towards training solution is to assess the present soft skills and to base the development of crew’s competence on that assessment. Therefore, having a simulator becomes a necessity to understand how people handle the situation, how they react, how they manifest it through their behaviors.

‘As an industry we need bridge the gap between standards of training and the required level of competency, while ensure that the crew’s skills, be they soft or not, are fully assessed and leveled up’...Wartsila marked.

As a result, future training will need to focus more on resilience, cross-cultural communication and understanding, negotiation, selfcare, and dispute resolution techniques. Mental health first aid and awareness must become part of the standard medical training for seafarers, not just an add-on.

In regard to seafarers’ training, Australian Maritime Authority (AMSA) noted: ‘Educating your crew is vital – Masters and senior crew members should know about the psychological impact of stress and mental health issues, including knowledge of the short and long-term consequences’.

From its side concerning the crew training, the Mission to Seafarers said: ‘Organizations can encourage those operating in their supply chain to engage with these courses to boost seafarer mental wellbeing. High quality training is vital to preserve the overall wellness, practical skills and competence of all seafarers. This in turn contributes towards keeping vessels safe, protecting the environment and keeping trade flowing’.

Overall, a more holistic approach to knowledge and skills will be required in future, with more focus and emphasis placed on helping everyone in a seafaring community, including family members, to develop skills. This includes the soft and hard skills needed to ensure the security and wellbeing of a family both whenever an individual is at sea, and after they have moved ashore. One thing is for sure, developing soft skills in the workplace isn’t an easy task, but doing so pays off internally to help build a culture of continuous improvement and excellence, and externally in interactions with stakeholders.