Professional development: a lifelong commitment

01 Jun 2015 The Navigator

Captain Sarabjit Butalia is a Master Mariner with many years’ experience in various training, lecturing and professional development roles. In this article, he examines the importance of keeping up-to-date with professional development, the opportunities available to navigators today and the benefits that can span an entire career

The marine industry is dynamic and ever-changing. The need of the hour is to keep ourselves updated with changes affecting our work environment, primarily including new regulations and latest technology. In addition, the protection of the environment, concerns around global warming, sustainability and supply chain security all take a central role, so we need to remain aware of new scenarios in each of these areas. To have a better understanding of the global and operational challenges facing you at any one time, you need to develop new skills, which can be achieved by pursuing professional development initiatives in their various guises.

Fulfilling the STCW qualification is only the minimum, generic requirement as far as competency skills go. To be suitably qualified for a type-specific ship, you must also (a) have the requisite experience (as required by some stakeholders like oil majors) and (b) pursue additional qualifications and training (both company and trade specific) to hone your knowledge and practical skill.

Skills required for day-to-day operations should be learnt and developed by the individual, with support from wellmanaged companies as appropriate .These skills range from acquiring in-depth knowledge about subjects such as commercial law and insurance, as well as soft skills like how to communicate effectively and manage cultural diversity. Acquiring such skills prepares people, not only to manage day-to-day operational issues, but also to help them look to future career progression.

Looking at various available claims records, it becomes quite clear that incidents related to navigation continue to occur, in spite of having the best and most modern electronic equipment onboard. If you look at the root cause of these incidents, most of them highlight issues related to effective communications on the bridge, poor teamwork, poor seamanship, lack of cultural sensitivity, inadequate knowledge about the ‘rules of the road’ and faulty interface between the navigator and their equipment.

In my view, training programmes which specifically address these issues are of great help to navigators. Online programmes focussing on ‘human element’ issues can be just as useful too. Of course, the challenge is to motivate seafarers to take part, and to see value in such programmes from a professional development point of view. Based on my experience, however, only a very small number of crew members take part. Yet, those whom I have managed to sign up feel that it is a step in the right direction for both their present duties and future career opportunities. They tell me that they have gained a lot.

The key question I am always asked is, how will this help me to get a job ashore? So the answer seems to be convincing the crew member that, no matter what professional development programme or initiative he or she enrols on, it will help in not only providing a road map to a shore assignment, but will also enhance their practical knowledge and understanding about the subject as a whole. If the objective is to broaden scope, knowledge and understanding about a wide range of issues related to day-to-day shipping, this can have a pleasing effect across an entire career.

How to get started
Once someone is keen to embark upon professional development, their next step is to find out how to go about it. Being onboard a ship means that your options are somewhat confined until you can gain better access to the outside world. I personally try to offer my help and services to crew members and mentor them on what they intend to do. Individual seafarers should start by identifying the areas that they are especially interested in and then explore ways and means to enhance their knowledge.

One seemingly simple way to do this is by searching for online resources, yet not everything available on the internet comes from a reliable source. Online and distance-learning courses should be closely examined to make sure they are worth embarking upon first. Not all ships can provide adequate internet access to crew members for them to pursue an exclusively online plan. So different avenues, such as printed publications, shore-based courses and the simple, yet effective tools of mentoring and sharing knowledge in person, should also come into play. Navigators may not need to enhance their technical skills, but instead, they might benefit more from developing their soft skills, such as management or communication.

As with any training, the success story of any professional development programme or initiative is clearly connected with the eagerness and willingness of the individual seafarers taking part. As an industry, we must review and adopt new methodologies and course content, in order to make training sessions more interesting and interactive.