Free Seaways Article: The Behavioural Competency Assessor Course

01 Dec 2022 Institute News

The Nautical Institute’s Head of Qualifications Stephen Window talks to technical specialists Captain Sarabjit Butalia FNI and Naomi Rewari about the thinking behind one of The Nautical Institute’s most popular short courses, and the human element issues facing the industry over the next few years.


Stephen Window – Tell us a little bit about yourselves?

Captain Sarabjit Butalia – I’m from a seafaring background – I joined shipping in 1979 so I’m really old. I sailed with an Indian company initially and then joined V Ships in 1992. I worked with them till 2017, initially at sea and then in the offi ce, doing safety quality management work. I started teaching in early 2000, and actively training from 2006.

Naomi Rewari – I’m a psychologist and an educationalist and I’ve been working in the marine industry for about 25 years now. I’m one of the founding directors of ARI. We’re a technology and education-based company. We develop simulation and digital technology solutions for the marine industry across the globe. I’ve contributed to publications including The Nautical Institute publication on Human Performance and Limitation for Mariners. We also carry out psychometric evaluation for seafarers and provide counselling to seafarers and their families. My father was a captain and worked in marine insurance in P&I for about 40 years. Back then, while people were talking about the human element, it was much more in terms of apportioning cause, and not really taking the step further to see how we change that. That’s where we came from; now we are looking to see what we can do in terms of improving the skills and the professional development of seafarers.

SW – Can you explain how you work together on the courses?

SB – Naomi is a human element expert, and I would see myself as a technical expert. We have worked together for many years, and we understand each other. We developed the course together and we discuss it on a day-to-day basis to see what is working, what is not working. There are no perfect solutions, but this is a good one. I think this course is one of a kind in that we actually use a specialist on the human element.

SW – What do you see as the major human element challenge in the industry at the moment?

NR – Things are changing quite quickly. The skills required are going to change over the next few years and in the decade beyond that. Seafarers are very adaptive, and they’ve moved to change, but they will need to be trained in these skills. There’s a big gap in terms of legislation catching up and then establishing the training and the assessment which is required to ensure that our seafarers are competent in the changing environment.

SW – What’s the main benefit of this behavioural course to seafarers? What relevance does it have?

SB – Seafarers are able to identify their strengths and weaknesses and how to improve further. We provide them some reference points and criteria for judgement – not just anecdotal examples, saying, ‘this is poor leadership’, or ‘this is teamwork’. I think when they have finished the course they do feel yes, this is valuable, but the challenge remains; what do you do after you have found the weaknesses? How do you improve? That is a challenge, and it will remain a challenge.

NR – Until now, when we’ve addressed the human element, it’s very often been in a more theoretical way. In this course, we really do get into the nitty gritty, taking a very practical situation, and asking ‘what are the elements of behaviour that I am expecting to see here’. It gives the individual chance to reflect on their own skills but also to see what they’re expecting from others – that really gets clarified over the five days. It’s creating a shared language about what we mean by human skills, and that’s been very, very beneficial.

SW – You mentioned the importance of self-reflection: do the students have any barriers to learning because they’re exposing their own weaknesses? How does that pan out during the week of the course?

NR – I’ve found all the students to be very, very honest. Self-reflection is the foundation of any development and it’s only when we can do that and look at ourselves that we can then actually expect change. And the students have been really very effective at that. We build up to it, taking in in stages, and I think all the students can see the benefits.

SW – Do the students believe in the effectiveness of behavioural assessment on board?

SB – I think they start to believe in it in the latter half of the course, from day three or four, when they do the human element exercise. 

NR – Until they actually do the course, I think they see it as compliance. It’s another formality that has to be completed, yet another checklist. The first day or two is spent breaking down those barriers, and by the end they realise this is not just an exercise which has to be done for the record, but actually something which they can use, and something in which they can develop their skills further. You can see the changing attitude over the five days.

SW – So part of it is breaking down the cynicism from the mariner? As you said, the audit and assessment process can seem yet another documentary system we have to go through.

SB – I think it’s a step in the right direction. Once the inspection report is produced, it should be analysed by people like Naomi , as well as the maritime technical experts. Only then will things change, and it all depends on the stakeholders what level they want to take it to.

NR – The training of the inspectors is going to be very, very important because this is something new. Looking at behavioural assessment is a welcome move, but I wouldn’t want it to become a checklist. What matters is how it’s taken forward, how the information which is gleaned is then addressed, and whether that becomes part and parcel of daily work.

SW – The cruise industry has already addressed the issues of human element and bridge resource management and the whole team. The oil industry and the gas industry are doing the same with SIRE 2 and SIGTTO. How do we reach into the other parts of the industry – the container ship world, the bulk cargo areas and everything else. Do you think there’s the scope there?

SB – The bulk carrier industry has already started this with the RightShip programme, which is working along the same lines as SIRE. I’ve heard that the container industry is also looking into assessments, particularly given recent accidents where we have lost so many containers. But we need to address the manning issue, because if they keep cutting down on numbers and hoping that human element training will make up the difference, it won’t. That’s not how it works.

SW – A major stress around the industry is the cost implication.

SB – Yeah, but if you look at freight rates, they have done so well and still are. Container freight used to be $2000. It went up to $10,000. If you look at the oil industry in the last quarter, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil put together made about $100 billion profit. So, I don’t know if some part of that it can be invested into the human element.

Looking at behavioural assessment is a welcome move, but I wouldn’t want it to become a checklist. What matters is how it’s taken forward.

SW – Will insurance be able to drive this?

NR – I think that they will definitely come looking. Obviously, it’s going to trickle down a little bit more slowly. The top-notch companies will adopt it more quickly. Then later on when it’s a little bit more forced the others will come in. That has historically been the case.

SB – Insurers have always been the drivers of all the changes, whether it was the ISM Code or the other programmes. The oil industry has never waited for legislators to bring in new things. They started with best practises and expedited the process. Here, again, the changes are being adopted by the oil majors and they are the ones who are leading.

SW – So what’s the next stage for human element in the industry? Where do we go from here?

NR – Until now, this kind of training has always been an added extra; now it’s been integrated into mainstream training. The attitude now is that it can’t be separated from everything else, so I think we’re moving in the right direction. I think we’re going to have to change the way that we’re doing things a little bit. The demands and the skill set of our operators and our seafarers on board ship are going to change. That’s going to need a lot of focus in terms of how we keep up with what’s required in the skill set and the competencies that seafarers are required to adopt in the next few years.

SB – The magic word is reskilling, and it’s happening. If you look at the report published by World Maritime University in 2017, and they said the low skill, repetitive jobs will go. So, we’ll have to reskill like any other industry and as trainers we have to align ourselves with that.

SW – There are other pressures out there such as decarbonization, the sulphur caps, digitalisation, automation, self-driving ships. All of this requires retraining. Where does human element training fit in with that? There’s all these other pressures, but it’s got to be at the forefront.

SB – I hope we don’t get diluted with AI and machine learning taking over everything. That is a big challenge, because that personal touch is very, very important.

NR – I do think the training and assessment will become more individualised. Technology will help us in terms of adaptive learning, and just the amount of data that we will have and the ability to manage that. We will be able to tailor-make training and assessment so that it is much more focused on the individual and the needs of the individual.

SW – Why do you choose to work with the NI in delivering training? Going on from that, why would a student member or non-member, or a company, choose the NI as their training provider?

SB – I think it’s the brand, and the access we have globally, including access to resources and speakers. I deliver courses with other organisers, and they don’t have this range. The ability to get an expert from a P&I Club or a lawyer, for example, is really important.

NR – It’s not just the richness of the facilitators, but also the mix of students. There’s the opportunity for students – who are professionals themselves – to interact with professionals from so many different levels, from so many different backgrounds. Regardless of what we do as facilitators, they learn a lot from each other and that adds a lot of depth, drawing so many professionals from across the world together onto one platform. For me, it’s really been a pleasure to be part of that. It’s really a great learning experience for us as well.

SW – Do you think our training methods have improved since Covid by doing our training online rather than face to face?

NR – The opportunity to bring people together has really been a benefit. On top of that, more people are getting trained. They wouldn’t have had the opportunity or the time to attend before. Also, we have had to focus and be more creative in how we get across our objectives and messages, and I think that’s also been a benefit. We do miss being in the same room, but I think the benefits have outweighed the issues. The increased access to information and having that multimedia kind of element in the course has all been very beneficial. It’s one of the areas where Covid has brought some positiveness.

SW – Would you say the increased diversity in the attendees has led to a huge spurt of learning across the student experience?

NR – Yes, absolutely. I think people are considering; they’re looking to learn. They’re seeing how they can upgrade earlier in their careers. Before, it probably wasn’t an option, or they didn’t want to move out from their comfort zone, but we’ve moved past that. Seafarers are really looking out for how they can upgrade themselves now, because it’s just so much easier. And the range of courses that the Nautical Institute is now offering and the future courses which are in the pipeline are really, really positive.

Regardless of what we do as facilitators, the students learn a lot from each other and that adds a lot of depth. It’s a great learning experience for us as well.