Standardizing Maritime Education Across Nationalities
By Captain Pradeep Chawla
The goal of STCW has been to establish a common, international training standard for seafarers from various nations. What has been attained so far and what more needs to be done to accomplish the goals of STCW fully?
Shipping is perhaps the first truly globalized industry in the world. The existence of various international flags under which ships can be registered has allowed seafarers originating from various countries to sail on ships that are not necessarily owned by local companies. Recognizing the international nature of the business, IMO has striven hard since 1978 to pursue safety of life at sea by having an internationally agreed minimum standard for training of seafarers.
To keep abreast with the ever-evolving nature of the profession, these standards have been proactively evaluated and subsequently updated by revisions in 1995 and thereafter in 2010.
The process to strive for common standards was further enhanced by the White List process with IMO appointing competent persons to review the training standards in different countries.
Has the process been successful in ensuring common standards across the world?
It depends on who you ask.
Each country is free to make bilateral agreements to recognize the training standards in another country. The E.U. states have gotten together and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) performs its own inspections in 80 countries to ensure that seafarers operating in E.U. waters are appropriately educated and trained.
At the sharp end, each shipowner makes their own decision about which nationality of seafarers they wish to employ. Each company has its own perception about the competency and training standards of different nationalities.
While these generalized perceptions may be right or wrong, there is no doubt that the industry does have a view that the goals of STCW have not yet been fulfilled. There is widespread consensus that the training standards in different countries are not equal.
Many companies have moved away from these generalizations based on nationality and prefer to go deeper and focus on recruitment from the better colleges within each country.
Such companies also creatively deploy well-thought-out examination and interview techniques to find the right crew to man their ships.
It is important to recognize the difference between education and training and competency. Education and training can only ensure that the student has passed a knowledge- or skill-based examination. Competency is usually defined as the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. It is generally accepted that both knowledge and skill are required to be competent. In addition to having the required knowledge and skill, the individual also needs to have the right attitude towards the job.
The experiences on board a ship play a large part in shaping the competency of an individual, by way of on-the-job training and the safety culture of the ship and company. The effect of attitude on human performance is a separate subject. Training institutions do not have much control of it.
Hence, let us discuss only education and training.
What are the reasons for the varying standards of education and training in different countries? The reasons are complex. However, they are known to most people involved in the maritime recruitment and training industry.
They include a shortage of funds; lack of availability of first-class teachers due to the relatively lower wages offered (which have never been in sync with the rise in salaries out at sea); lack of financial support by industry or governments; lack of sufficient knowledge by the teachers; oversupply of colleges competing with each other, and many other similar challenges.
These issues are discussed in seminars across the world. However, the solutions are rarely discussed entirely. Here are some of my personal opinions and suggestions:
The ISM code, Element 6 and STCW Code Reg 1/14 clearly put the responsibility on the company for manning the ships with properly qualified crew. Irrespective of the nationality of the crew, regulators expect the same safety standards on board all ships.
The first step towards achieving a common safety standard would be to measure the knowledge of the crew (which is one the essential ingredients to being competent) against a common standard. While IMO may never be able to get various nations to agree on a common international examination, the industry already has such tools available and is utilizing them. Analyzing the results of such measurements in an unbiased way will lead to identifying gaps and subsequently discovering solutions towards improving the education and training in different countries.
2. Standardization of the Curriculum
The STCW code spells out the minimum standard of competencies for each rank in its tables. The IMO publishes model courses in an attempt to help implement the convention better and to achieve standardization of the content that is being taught across countries.
However, the IMO model courses have lately come under criticism. Certain advanced colleges and countries claim that the IMO model courses restrict innovation or have complaints about the content of the courses.
On the other hand, most crew supplying nations and emerging new colleges consider the IMO model courses as a big help and try to follow the contents diligently.
The training industry in advanced countries and in emerging countries needs to come together to collectively agree on the contents of these IMO model courses, as it is in the interest of the entire industry that there is standardization of the curriculum across all maritime countries.
GlobalMET, an association of over 100 establishments across 30 countries has a project to assist in this task.
3. Standardization of Assessment Techniques
Even with the same curriculum being taught, one would get very different outcomes if the assessment methodologies are different.
A lot of work is needed in defining appropriate methodologies for carrying out the assessment of students to ensure similar outcomes after teaching the same curriculum in different countries. This is an area that has not received sufficient attention in the STCW convention as yet. The training industry needs to take the lead in developing these techniques. The assessment system should be robust and designed to measure the application of knowledge in real-life scenarios.
4. Standardizing the Qualification of the Assessors
As we delve deeper, it should be appreciated that standardizing the methodologies of assessment is critical to achieve the correct outcomes of education and training. Similarly, the qualification of assessors needs to be standardized. There should be efforts and programs for building up the required knowledge and skills of the assessors. There may be administration-approved courses (such as training for trainers and assessors) available, but these courses are of limited duration and may not ensure similar outcomes in different countries. The training industry needs to take the lead in this aspect as well.
5. Raising the Skill Levels of the Teachers
It is well-recognized in all industries that, at the end of the day, the quality of the teacher is more important than the gadgets or simulators or teaching aids available in a college.
The reasons for the differing levels of teachers in different countries are well-known. The various stakeholders in the industry, including shipowners, trade associations and government agencies, must recognize the need for skill-enhancement programs for teachers, especially in the colleges in the crew-supplying nations. Investment must be made in such programs. Knowledge transfer from the good colleges to the emerging colleges is urgently needed.
6. On-the-Job Training
An essential and critical part of the education and training of a seafarer is the training received as part of the mandatory sea time requirements for onboard training.
The industry has been reducing the onboard training requirements over the last three decades. This, combined with the faster turnaround of ships and reduced manning, has led to the situation that learning from mentors on board has gotten severely restricted. No amount of classroom and simulator-based training can be a substitute for what is learned on board. The shipboard-structured training program developed for granting remission of sea time is often not given the importance it deserves because the senior officers on board are themselves very busy with other shipboard work.
My personal opinion is that the sea time requirement should be increased as follows:
18 months as a cadet; 24 months sea time at operational level and another 30 months at management level (C/O, 2/E) before gaining command. A total of six years to be a Captain or Chief Engineer is not too long considering that the responsibilities of a Master and Chief Engineer are no less than that of a CEO of a company.
7. Quality Assurance
While STCW Regulation I/8 requires all countries to ensure that a quality assurance system is set up for maritime training institutes, the reality is that in some countries the process is very weak. In my opinion, an independent international organization should be entrusted to carry out the quality assurance audits of the training institutions.
8. Industry and Training Institutions Cooperation
Shipowners often complain that the crew is not trained well and is not fully competent despite having certificates. One of the reasons is the lack of interaction between training institutions and ship operators.
Teachers in general are people who like to learn continuously, but the industry does not give them opportunities to upgrade their skills. Teachers need to occasionally sail on ships to refresh their knowledge about the application of latest regulations and the latest equipment and machinery fitted on board. The teachers also need feedback on the accidents and near misses that are happening on board.
The industry associations need to work more closely together to achieve standardization in training.
9. Standardized Entry-Level Test
The school system in different countries differs substantially. This has an effect on how much can be achieved in the maritime college. Mathematics, physics and chemistry or even verbal and written skills that were not properly taught in the 12 years of school attendance cannot be taught in the maritime college. This is a very difficult issue to address on an international scale, but the industry has been working on it and some solutions are available in the market.
In conclusion, the industry stakeholders, especially the end-users, shipowners, managers and training institutions need to work more closely together. The industry trade associations need to support training wholeheartedly. Waiting for governments to take the initiative will not work in most countries.
Captain Pradeep Chawla is Managing Director, QHSE & Training at Anglo-Eastern Ship Management.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.