NI Seminar. Hong Kong. 23rd October 2015.
Training Required for the Future Mariner
Dr Chris Haughton, GlobalMET
When it comes to shore-based college and other formalised training it is relatively clear to see where that’s heading. In many places, the future is bright and illuminated by student-centred teaching, distance and blended-learning programmes, innovative learning strategies and effective assessment schemes.
Regrettably, there are also still too many places with outmoded pedagogies, stodgy, didactic delivery and redundant competency assessment – but let’s hope they’ll come to see the light in time.
This paper will leave the college and shore-based training to another day. Instead, it will concentrate on the practical training carried out week in and week out on board merchant vessels throughout the world and which, with depressing regularity, sometimes refuses to show the impact it should. It will address a few fundamental issues that underpin the training rather than the nuts and bolts of the training itself.
Firstly, it will underline how things change with great speed, thus providing the rationale for training.
Secondly, and introducing the main theme of the paper, it will concentrate on thinking and how that has a direct effect on effective training.
Thirdly, it will remind us how our thinking is shaped by events – especially when we’re being observed or audited.
So it will be considering whether inspections may actually and counter-intuitively be having a negative impact. And finally, the paper will ask about the delegates’ own thinking.
The rate and speed of change is increasing and the shelf life of knowledge is getting shorter and shorter.
What we learn today is out of date in no time. The challenges that our young seafarers will face over the next forty years are unimaginable. They need to be equipped in every respect to deal with this future of uncertainty. One thing we can be certain of is that effective training will be a constant in the equation.
Some of the problems will be forever the same – after all, the sea is an underpinning constant and ships will always sink if you put a hole in them - but some of the challenges will be so radically different in terms of geopolitics, the demands of society, technical advance, climate change and other environmental concerns that the text books we buy today will be out of date before the ink is dry and need to be re-written – frequently.
Seafarers will need to engage in personal development, training and lifelong learning like no generation has before.
So what may be done? How may we equip ourselves the better to deal with this fast-changing picture? Is there anything we can do to make our journey more effective? Well, yes, perhaps unsurprisingly, the author believes there is and would like to move on to the main theme of the paper by indulging in a short story that tries to illustrate this. First, the context.
Changing the way we think may be quite a task and some readers will struggle to see what on earth this has got to do with training. However, once some of the concepts are unpacked, the links become clearer.
Time taken for thinking and reflection is precious. But we don’t always help ourselves because we don’t necessarily equate ‘thinking’ with ‘working’. Doing apparently nothing doesn’t look busy enough so we make sure that doesn’t happen by engaging in constant activity. And sometimes we’re so busy being busy that we forget to just be.
The evidence is abundant that time spent in reflection and thinking is not wasted. Thinking is working. It is in an investment and the time spent thinking before doing pays off handsomely.
In his latest book on thinking, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, Daniel Kahneman reveals compelling evidence on how we think. Kahneman argues that there are basically two ways to think: System 1 and 2.
Countering this, effective training is planned, calculated, carefully executed, recorded and evaluated. It may even be difficult as people tackle new equipment or procedures. That will sometimes cause frustration, anxiety and even anger. But we never learn anything new if we stay in our comfort zones so these reactions are positive and should be welcomed.
As we practice and train, train and practice, those tasks we initially found difficult and frustrating become easier to accomplish. In fact, we may even say that it becomes intuitive to do things in a certain way.
Kahneman suggests that, in fact, no behaviour is intuitive – behaviour we think is intuitive is merely that which has been rehearsed and practised so many times that it’s become normal.
Of course, as we train and practice, practice and train, we strengthen the muscle memory and neural pathways, so the tasks which we first had to think about very hard, become easier and easier. And this virtuous cycle of deep thinking translated into action ensures that Systems 2 thinking becomes Systems 1.
Then how is that so many incidents still occur where it appears that personnel have wilfully ignored systems and procedures, taken no precautions, falsified the Permits to Work and suffered injury or worse as a result?
That moves us on to the third point of this paper which introduces the possibility that our sticking-plaster remedies may be making things worse.
It’s true to say that we usually react to a problem by laying down another thick layer of regulation and law and then increasing the training requirement.
But evidence from another sector is beginning to show that we may have some lessons to learn. But before we look at that, we need to start by answering the most basic question of all: why do we train in the first place?
It seems clear that a fundamental (but sometimes unspoken) reason we train is in order to pass inspection. In fact, we can even go on training courses to learn how to pass port state control inspections where they will be looking at, amongst other things, how we train!
Now the evidence from other places is that this craze for inspection with its relentless pressure on the need to show that you’re doing a good job is beginning to show its fault lines. Evidence from college inspections in the UK (Petty, 2015) shows that the intrusive nature of repeated lesson observations actually reduces the quality of teaching. ‘When teachers are being graded they inevitably try to guess what the observer will be looking for and often try to teach in this way. They stop asking themselves ‘what is good teaching?’ and start to ask ‘what are they looking for?’ (Petty, 2015:31).
In going down this road the ‘search for excellence is replaced by a largely futile attempt to guess what’s in the observers’ heads and to remember checklists…’ (Petty, 2015: 31).
The teachers are now being motivated extrinsically by the need to perform under observation rather than intrinsically – in other words because they want to. Petty (2015) points to a century of research that shows that extrinsic motivation reduces creativity and lowers standards in complex tasks (Pink, 2011).
If you replace ‘observed teaching’ with ‘observed training’ is this beginning to sound familiar? It seems to be precisely what’s happening in our audits, vetting, port state and flag state inspections.
So, how do we improve the standard of training, education and learning on board ship if we don’t inspect it? Well, of course there is no suggestion that inspections will ever disappear – they are too ingrained in our cultural, legal and commercial norms to contemplate that – but there may be things that can be done on board to improve the training and thus ensure the inspections harbour no stress or reduce performance.
Now, without further research it would be premature to extrapolate the findings from one sector to another – but the arguments seem at least to be persuasive and worthy of further exploration.
So, what to do about all this mix of theory and practice? I’ve come up with a few bullet points that may concentrate minds.
To conclude: this short paper has tried to show how the rate of change is so fast that continuous and effective training has to become embedded in our culture. It has argued that we need to think about our thinking if we’re to have any impact on our behaviours and finally, it raises some questions about the efficacy of the present inspection regime in achieving our common goals.
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. London. Penguin.
Petty, G. (2015). Graded lesson observations are dead in the water. What should replace them? Published in the Journal ‘Intuition’. Issue 21. Autumn. London. The Society for Education and Training.
Pink, D.H. (2011). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Edinburgh. Canongate.
Haughton Maritme Limited 2015