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Innovative Training for Testing Times

Posted: June 16, 2011

Innovative Training for Testing Times

Christer Sjödoff, Group Vice President GAC Solutions and Director GAC Training & Service Solutions (GTSS), explores how training providers are adapting their philosophies and methods to face the needs of the modern maritime industry.

The maritime industry has always been the backbone of world trade but now its businesses face a multitude of pressures from within its operating environment.  Amid continued economic uncertainty, shrinking margins, rising bunker prices, increasingly stringent environmental regulations and ongoing operational challenges, it is perhaps understandable that some might regard training as just another cost.

Yet even in tough economic times staff training must be viewed as a long-term investment. The ‘human factor’ may be our greatest vulnerability, but, at the same time, people provide our biggest opportunity. Ensuring that maritime professionals are qualified, capable and confident of doing their jobs to the best of their abilities is not only an investment worth making, but one that could also give companies a crucial commercial advantage over their competitors, particularly when there is a shortage of qualified, experienced crew.

The temptation to see training and crewing as ‘soft’ costs that can be cut to protect the bottom line. However, one should weigh this inclination against a report from DNV, stating that 60% of the most costly incidents for ship owners and operators were collisions, groundings, and contacts.

In addition, a recent online survey by shipping daily newspaper Lloyd’s List highlighted a lack of training opportunities as a leading cause of disenchantment across a broad spectrum of industry groups such as brokers, charterers, and traders; up to and including executives and senior management. Moreover, the Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB), the IMO and DNV have all raised concerns about corners being cut and seafarers serving in positions for which they lack the qualifications and experience.

Costs of training are low relative to the investments that owners and operators are putting at risk. For example, an exportation LNG terminal that costs $3bn to build, with a ship alongside valued at $250m, discharging a cargo worth $20m, is a hugely valuable asset – and a considerable safety, environmental and financial risk.

The best way to minimise that risk is to ensure that all parties with a share of the responsibility for implementing the correct procedures, upholding regulations and maintaining standards are properly trained to do so.

Just as slow steaming has emerged to counter rising fuel costs and new environmental solutions have been developed to drive up vessel efficiency, so the training sector has responded by modernising its methods and tools in order to equip all maritime professionals with the skills that they need.

The latest maritime training courses seek to achieve this by breaking down working silos between the operational and commercial activities in every business.

There are many instances of where a commercial error has operational consequences and vice versa; a vessel may not see the importance of issuing a note of protest about a shore-side delay, whilst the ship management team may not understand the true cause of a breakdown that rendered the Note of Readiness invalid. Bridging this knowledge gap between ship and shore can be a rich source of efficiency gains.

New technology is also playing a decisive role, not only in revolutionising shipping operations through the likes of ECDIS, but also in helping to deliver safe, effective, realistic and value-for-money training for crews and land-based personnel alike.  This is reflected in the training courses provided at GTSS and elsewhere.

GTSS is a partnership between GAC, the global provider of shipping, logistics and marine services, and the National Maritime College of Ireland (NMCI), one of the most advanced maritime training facilities in the world.

GTSS is committed to delivering high value, technologically-advanced training and adopts a number of innovative new training tools; among the most exciting of which is its increasingly sophisticated marine simulator. The NMCI has the world’s largest simulator suite, with 17 simulators supplied by Kongsberg Maritime. This includes one of only a few full 360-degree simulators, as well as damper-mounted simulators that realistically simulate the movement of the ocean. The benefits of these simulators are exemplified in the field of Ship-to-Ship Transfer training.

Ship handling experience is the key to successful STS operations and simulator training is the ideal way to solve the riddle of how to gain experience, without the risks of ‘on the job’ training. GTSS offers a week-long STS simulator course which covers safe manoeuvring using the ship’s engines and helm, the impact of natural forces, such as wind, current and interaction, the importance of approach planning, efficient management of bridge procedures, and effective and safe bridge team management.  The course progresses from the basics of STS procedures in benign weather conditions to worst-case scenarios in adverse conditions.

There are many variables at the disposal of the course lecturer, including different vessel types, locations, weather conditions and every imaginable operational scenario, meaning that attendees can be trained on precisely the right type of vessel for their needs. Once an exercise has begun, participants tend to forget it’s a simulation. This is particularly useful when worst-case scenarios such as engine breakdown or steering failure are enacted. Trainees experience the full stress of the situation in a safe environment, allowing them to understand how to react appropriately should it happen in a real life situation.

Increasing numbers of companies are also asking for commercial STS training for their shore-side personnel, incorporating an element of simulated STS operations to help them understand the role of their seafaring colleagues. To meet this demand, GTSS offers a commercial STS course that bridges the gap between ship and shore.

The overall objective is to enable people to better understand the drivers within the industry, blend practical and commercial skills and ultimately to improve their ability to perform their role in the value chain – both onshore and shipside.

Proper and effective training is an area with clear opportunity to add value – people with different skill sets are required to collaborate for a common goal but are often restricted by their understanding of factors outside their own role. Those people who are involved in the organisation and coordination of operations from an office in, for example, London or Geneva can only perform more effectively by understanding not only their own responsibilities but also the responsibilities of everyone involved in the operation, whether directly or indirectly.

Organisations rely upon their staff to do the best job they can; to make the right decisions and take appropriate action on the behalf of the company. With this expectation comes a responsibility to empower them to do so. Whether afloat or onshore specialist training is fundamental to realising profitable efficiencies and minimising environmental and financial risk.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that budgets have come under considerable pressure during such tough economic times, the demands placed upon maritime professionals have rarely been higher.

The more forward thinking companies recognise that their human capital can be the strongest link in their value chain and are investing in training for their seafarers and land-based teams.

The marine training sector is responding to this in a dynamic, creative and proactive fashion by delivering cutting edge training solutions that meet specialist needs with the right blend of practical and commercial skills.  In doing so, it is helping its customers to both minimise risks and maximise efficiencies in their operations.

Christer Sjödoff

Group Vice-President, GAC Solutions

Based in the corporate head office in Dubai, Christer Sjödoff is responsible for the conception and development of GAC Solutions designed to meet the needs of the international maritime community through strategic tie-ups that marry GAC’s capabilities in shipping, logistics and marine with the specialist services of its partners.

A partnership between GAC Solutions and the state-of-the-art $100m training facility at NMCI, GTSS provides expert delivery of a portfolio of training courses for both seafarers and shore-based shipping personnel. These courses are designed to provide unique “hands-on” training to ship owners, operators, managers, charterers and trading companies, oil, gas and chemical companies. To discover more about courses provided by GTSS visit www.gac.com/gtss or contact nmci@gac.com.

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