By Ryan Skinner (email)
Consider the steady adding of new rules and requirements an unstoppable force. Consider the pool of available seafarers the immovable object. What happens when the two meet?
Corners get cut, that's what happens. A captain recently told me in an email that "in fact, 10-15 per cent of seafarers are not up to their task." Thomas Jacobsen of DNV Seaskill relates to me a quote he heard from an executive at a major shipping company: "We're promoting captains far too early."
Both of these assessments are symptomatic. What they mean is this: The people who are supposed to have A, B and C, often only have A and B. Some only have A. That's not even considering E, or experience, which is probably lacking across the board.
I asked Jacobsen and DNV Seaskill, one of the few outfits designed to provide certifications of the quality of a training regime, whether the unstoppable force and immovable object mentioned above were driving more companies to use services like theirs to ensure that training really is training.
Jacobsen told me yes and no. Starting in 2004 when DNV Seaskill started up, business boomed. Then the recession hit. Business dawdled. The company's put its focus in particularly training-intensive businesses like offshore operations, or complex tonnage.
It's understandable that business slowed. There were less ships to be manned during a recession. But I'd be worried that anyone involved with training would take short-cuts during a recession to protect the bottom line. That erosion of culture may remain eroded after the market picks up again.
There are high points and low in training today. Jacobsen cites Teekay, which has pro-actively used its Seaskill certification of training courses as part of a management system to create seafarer loyalty, and build confidence with charterers.
On the other hand, DP training is generally problematic. A DP certificate comes after one course, 30 days at sea and then another course. But, as Jacobsen points out, many of those courses have no exams and there's no proof the student was even awake. And those 30 days at sea are too often spent far from the DP operator's work station.
Both Jacobsen and my captain source conclude on a pessimistic note. Jacobsen feels little will really shake up the industry until the ephemeral "big accident". The captain fears a stricter training regime, in line with heightened demands, would dry up the pool of potential seafarers.
I have a radical suggestion: Why not associate higher training standards with greater status? It may be unreasonable, but why aim just to clear the low bar instead of reaching for the high one?