Ensuring a Competent and Engaged Workforce

With bigger ships, shrinking budgets and higher stakes in the event of an accident, it's more important than ever that seafarers be properly trained and equipped.


By Dione Lee 2015-04-21 16:54:01

(Article originally published in July/Aug 2014 edition.)

Now more than ever the maritime industry needs to work together, be smarter and maximize the available resources that support and prepare the current and next generation of mariners. Why? Because the maritime work environment is changing so rapidly and becoming ever more demanding. 

Fortunately, there are many excellent and innovative programs around to help meet the needs of today’s workforce. These include e-learning tools, on-the-job training, performance assessment, manned models, and back-to-the-classroom opportunities for shoreside management to sharpen skills and increase competence. Let’s take a look at each of them and see how they work together to get the job done.

E-Learning Tools

In this economy where shipping companies’ margins are squeezed, maritime training budgets tend to be eliminated or cut back substantially to help make ends meet. E-learning tools, such as computer-based training (CBT), are a cost-effective way to monitor and improve skills. These programs are constantly being refined and updated and represent a supplemental solution for most training requirements. 

On-the-Job Training

Captain Ted Morley, COO of Maritime Professional Training (MPT) in Fort Lauderdale, the largest private maritime school in the country with an annual enrollment of 10,000 to 12,000, tailors the educational process to ensure his students are viable, prepared for success, trained and encouraged to be workforce-ready, and equipped to meet new opportunities like energy exploration, short sea and LNG shipping. 

More and more training institutes like MPT see the value of creating awareness about the maritime industry early on by getting involved with the local school systems in developing programs for tomorrow’s generation of mariners. Lisa Morley, MPT’s Vice President of Sales & Marketing and Ted Morley’s sister, shared a sample of her outreach efforts: “Yesterday I spent the day with a group from South Broward High School’s Maritime Magnet Program called Reef Dogs. We spent the entire day with a group of researchers from Nova Southeastern University doing shark-tagging. It was an amazing experience to enrich the lives of these kids and help them gain awareness of the oceans and the wealth of opportunities available in the marine industry.” 

Both Ted and Lisa are passionate about the industry they serve. Their goal is to give mariners from ages 18 to 81 what they want: a path to success, cutting-edge technology, the knowledge and ability to meet regulations and, most importantly, job-specific training. Ted is a firm believer that “Education without application doesn’t get the job done.”

The Workboat Academy is another school focusing on workforce-ready education and is home of the innovative and award winning Deck Program. The Academy has three convenient locations (Maryland, Washington State and Louisiana), covering the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts. Students are paired early on with a Partner Company where they do their onboard training. Director Marja van Pietersom says, “This two-year program offers an integrated learning style combining classroom time and simulation with the old hawsepipe experience. It is a fast-paced apprenticeship program for motivated individuals where 95 percent of the graduates remain with their Partner Company upon completion of the program.” 

The program is specifically designed for the entry-level person interested in becoming an officer and is comprised of 32 weeks of classroom/simulation training and a minimum of 52 weeks of onboard training, which is documented in a Training Record Book. The Deck Program is organized so that every shore-based training phase is reinforced by simulation and onboard training. This approach allows immediate on-the-job application of the student’s new knowledge. Furthermore, each phase builds on the one before it to develop skills gradually and logically. “We are able to achieve phenomenal retention rates due to our ability to ensure you are training where you want and are getting your sea-time with the company you want to work for,” adds van Pietersom. 

Performance Assessment

To identify knowledge and skill requirements for a more targeted approach to training, MITAGS-PMI has teamed with industry supporters to develop the NSAP® (Navigational Skills Assessment Program). The program utilizes custom simulation scenarios and assessment criteria based on industry best practices and regulatory requirements to objectively measure performance. Knowledge and skill gaps are identified and recommendations made. Areas assessed during the simulation include:

COLREGS (Rules of the Road) – Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea

Situational Awareness

Bridge Resource Management

Company Policies and Procedures

Communication, and


Performance at each measurement point is rated Highly Effective, Effective, Not Effective and, in some cases, Unsatisfactory. A comprehensive report is generated at the end of each assessment session for review purposes. This report includes the evaluators’ observations and comments for each participant and general recommendations that address the individual’s knowledge and skill gaps. Observations and recommendations may include further training or implementation of additional company policies and procedures.

Between 2011 and 2013 Crowley ran close to 700 mariners through the NSAP, providing a safe and meaningful way for their mariners to improve performance. Captain Scott Craig, Director of Marine Personnel for Crowley Marine Services on the West Coast, stated there were two main objectives:

verify Crowley personnel have the skills their licenses say they need to have, and 

provide a snapshot of what areas they need to focus on for training based on the information gathered during the process. 

Captain Craig commented, “The NSAP was a very effective way to accomplish both objectives and provided a valuable tool to identify opportunities for improvement both on an individual and fleet-wide level. It brought broad issues to the surface quickly like overreliance on ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System) and lack of effective COLREGS application.” Captain Craig, representing Crowley, is on the NSAP Advisory Committee to help ensure the program meets industry needs and raises the bar to the highest level. Captain Craig noted a definite cultural shift after the officers went through the NSAP process: Captains were taking lessons learned back to their vessels to raise the level of watchstanding by mates.

Manned Models

The Center for Maritime and Professional Training at Massachusetts Maritime Academy provides courses for professionals in industry and government. One of the courses is an Advanced Shiphandling course using manned models. The program is a unique training module designed for senior-level officers and pilots who wish to enhance their knowledge of the art of shiphandling. There are four scale models of actual ships in their manned model fleet and model ship assist tugs will be added shortly. 

Based on student feedback, the Center’s Director, Captain Michael R. Burns Jr., states that manned models have proven to be a very effective training aid, allowing mariners to actually feel the vessel underneath them and the dynamics of the weather. Manned models are very responsive to the operator’s actions, allowing immediate opportunities for correction as well as prompting the operator to think ahead. “Things happen four to five times more quickly on manned models and force the mariners to ‘look out the window’ in an ever-increasing environment of overreliance on technology,” he added. 

Back-to-the-Classroom Opportunities

For shoreside management, there are some higher learning institutes that offer graduate studies in maritime. Denmark’s Copenhagen Business School is recognized as offering the only part-time Executive MBA Program in Shipping and Logistics in the world. The mission of this unique “Blue MBA” is to give high-potential executives in the shipping industry up-to-date insight into modern management theories and their application in the maritime sector.

Other cutting-edge programs are being spawned by changing technology and the need for manufacturers to be part of the education solution. Susan Hayman, Vice President for HSQE & External Affairs at Foss Maritime, realized the importance of “engineering human interface with changing technology” during the development of the two Foss hybrid tugs: “Mariners now need to deal with the changing electronics and equipment onboard workboats. There are troubleshooting and diagnostics challenges with the newer engines, which will only increase with the Tier IV engines and after-treatment systems.”

Manufacturers are stepping up to the plate to provide technical training for their customers and agents. Tamrotor Marine Compressors (TMC), the world’s leading supplier of compressed air systems for marine and offshore use, has just opened “Compressor Heaven,” a brand new training and meeting center in Norway. Navalimpianti Group provides an intensive orientation program on Life-Saving Appliances (LSAs), which includes theoretical and practical training on the equipment. 

There are many more excellent maritime education and training organizations with programs designed to help prepare mariners for today’s work environment. The most important step is to clearly identify what type of training is needed and where it is offered. Second, ensure the training is relevant, practical and provides a combination of the primary learning styles: seeing, hearing and doing, to ensure maximum benefit to mariners. Lastly, choose a support service that is aligned with your company’s goals and objectives.  

Dione Lee is President of QSE Solutions, a Seattle-based transportation advisory firm. This is her first appearance in the magazine.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.