If we are asked ‘Are you a mentor?’ it is quite likely that many of us would say ‘No,’ and yet many people are mentoring without necessarily being conscious of doing so. Knowledge gained through experience, and then reflected upon, is a valuable resource that should be passed on in an informal but purposeful way. At sea, people used to train their successors, and in turn, understudy the people above them. Much has still to be taught (or experienced) on board to supplement the foundation of knowledge obtained ashore.
Many factors have led to a reduction in the opportunities for on-the-job experience, including changes in technology, faster promotions and reduced sea-time requirements between certificates of competency. There are also many barriers to the easy transfer of experiential knowledge, including language and culture, and there is the ever-present problem of pressure of work and lack of time.
Mentoring is usually set out as a rather formal process and often on a designated one-to-one basis over a fairly long period of time. In some cases people lay claim to having had a mentor for much of their career and are undoubtedly extremely fortunate to have such support and advice. An example of such a formal mentoring scheme is that of the UK’s Honourable Company of Master Mariners which links a young seafarer with a Master Mariner with the aim of the latter helping the former through the knowledge acquisition and experience process to become a Master Mariner. The system works, and it can be flexible where careers do not develop as expected.
However, mentoring does not have to be so formal or time consuming. A new book, Mentoring at Sea, by Captain André LeGoubin sets a 10 minute challenge for us all to pass on our knowledge and experience to our colleagues. While his advice focuses on the need for the new generation of seafarers to be mentored so as to acquire the skills and competence that instruction in colleges cannot deliver on its own, it will work in any job at sea or ashore. The book makes a compelling case on the need for mentoring and does not shy away from the cultural, mental and emotional blocks to doing it effectively. It is also packed with good advice from an experienced practitioner who has been a seafarer since childhood, with various mentors in the many different sectors and roles that he has worked in. This book should be widely read on every ship and in every management office, and, if it is, we are confident that it will help generate a significant improvement in competency throughout the seafaring world.