Free Article: Future-proofing the maritime industry for new training needs

27 Mar 2024 Seaways

Author: Captain Pradeep Chawla FNI

Shipping is changing and adapting rapidly to new technologies and the challenges of decarbonisation. At the recent Sub-Committee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW 10) meeting held on 5-9 February, 2024, it was decided that 22 specific areas of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), will be reviewed, including training requirements.

Now is the time to take stock of the competencies that will be vital for shipping to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead and ensure our training methods are fit for purpose. Training methods need to adopt new technologies and keep pace with the rapid change required to learn these new competencies.

We must examine how we as an industry utilise existing and emerging technologies in education and training in tandem with updates to seafarer training standards. This will enable seafarers to access training and learn as effectively as possible in a job with so many demands on their time.

As the STCW review makes clear with its focus on emerging technologies, cyber security awareness, bullying and harassment and mental health and wellbeing, these areas need to be embedded in the modern seafarer curriculum, no matter what stage of their career they are at. Training should be in step with these updates and delivered in a way that suits the learning styles of the next generation of seafarers.

The logistics of learning 

One of the main challenges faced by the HR department of a shipping company is the logistics of bringing seafarers to physical classrooms for training, even if the company is willing to bear the costs for their employees. It is also a challenge to balance the holiday and family time of the seafarer with the ever-expanding training that is necessary. Often seafarers themselves are tasked with trying to find training that fits in with their demanding work schedules, or that can be fitted in while on leave – not an easy task, and one that can often require additional travel to training centres away from their hometowns.

While practical issues continue to be a challenge, there is also a massive shift in how people want to learn. Gen Z in particular is more drawn to digital ways of learning, and interest in attending classes is dwindling. They are quick to grasp information and knowledge through catchy headlines and short bite-size information, which has led to a desire to absorb information in the shortest amount of time possible.

As an outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic many e-learning platforms emerged to fulfil the training needs of the maritime industry. However, questions remain over how effective some of these platforms are and whether they truly match the needs of seafarers. Not all e-learning is born equal; there is a need to assess the quality of the training being provided.

Micro-learning and absorbing information

Whether we accept it or not, the fact is that we are all learning from social media. The digital behaviour of our seafarers, a large portion of who are now millennials and Gen Z, is hooked to platforms such as Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), LinkedIn and WhatsApp that provide easy to absorb and succinctly packaged information as their key sources for knowledge.

‘Micro-Learning’ or bite-sized learning suits the learning style of these generations well, but it is a valuable learning tool for all seafarers, no matter what generation. The concept is to present learning content as small blocks of information that can be absorbed easily. The sum of these blocks will cover the subject in its entirety. This concept allows more freedom to study at a pace of learning suited to each individual.

Furthermore, considering my experience with over 30,000 seafarers of all ages, I have seen that when the learning content is presented in video format the absorption of information by both young and senior seafarers is very high. This is no wonder in the age of screens that we live in – we are all now the Netflix generation.

More and more people prefer audio visual experiences to gain information – just look at the success of YouTube. I am certain that everyone has used it at one stage in their life to find out how to solve a DIY problem or fix a piece of technology because video learning is so effective in getting across complex or technical instructions.

Interactive learning and VR

For many, particularly younger generations raised with computer games, gamification – adding games or gamelike elements especially on a digital medium – can make learning interactive and fun, while also instilling specific skills needed for life at sea. This is presently still a relatively underdeveloped area of maritime training but one that can be incredibly effective. Younger seafarers say the experience is ‘awesome’.

Digital training has the power to be truly engaging and immersive. As technology has evolved, Virtual Reality (VR) has provided another dimension to maritime education. The immersive experience provides real-time training for young cadets where they are able to see the environment they would be working in and how they can respond to various scenarios while at sea.

Previously, the construction and layout of the forepeak tank – and how to move safely within it – was taught through 2D and 3D sketches, but today we teach young cadets by taking them on a virtual walkthrough. While virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) maritime modules are still in their infancy, they will be a useful tool for maritime training and education, especially in this new era where competencies need to be acquired at a rapid pace. 

The way forward

The revisions of the STCW Convention and Code have come at the right time as maritime stands at the precipice of great change. To ensure we prepare our seafarers for the issues they will face, from cyber security to wellbeing considerations, in what continues to be a demanding and busy role, digital training will play an increasingly essential role.

Hopefully, the lessons learnt during the Covid-19 pandemic will have shown companies just how valuable it is to adopt emerging technologies for maritime training. With the right platform – and with accurate information behind them – they offer an efficient and effective way to deliver knowledge and enhance the competency levels of seafarers.

Captain Pradeep Chawla is the CEO of MarinePALS, Chairman of GlobalMET and has been an active participant in the world of maritime training for over thirty years.