The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital learning and boosted cross-industry collaboration but hindered on board training for UK cadets.
Kathryn Neilson, Director, MNTB
AS THE DIRECTOR OF THE MERCHANT NAVY TRAINING BOARD, MY MAIN FOCUS IS TO ENSURE THAT OUR CADETS ARE TRAINED AND EDUCATED in a way that prepares them well to compete in a global maritime market. For the MNTB, the development of transferable skills is key to ensuring our seafarers can move from sector to sector and industry to industry if they do not wish to remain at sea, whilst allowing them to set their own parameters when choosing a career path in the maritime industry.
The Covid-19 pandemic has massively affected seafarer training over the course of 2020 and, unfortunately, continues to do so. Our key focus must be to ensure that training can continue despite the obstacles and major challenges. The lessons we have learned are important, as we are likely to be challenged by the effects of the pandemic for the foreseeable future and the impact will be apparent in both short- and long-term consequences for seafarer training.
Despite the challenges, we have found positives to take forward and have identified steps that make our systems more robust in the long-term. We have implemented – and are likely to continue deploying – digital meetings for the MNTB and our stakeholders on a regular basis. It is practical, has evidenced higher engagement levels, and allows people to attend more easily and more frequently. The latter is particularly notable as, without the concerns of leave, travel costs, child care, and accessibility needs, we can benefit from diverse perspectives that otherwise might not have been available if we were continuing the face-to-face system of meetings in the centre of London.
Our ability to work more closely with stakeholders than ever before has also allowed us to identify problems and seek solutions much faster than we would have on a traditional timeline. Due to the need to collaborate on solutions, we are speaking more frequently and breaking down any siloed ways of thinking we had previously, which has led to improved teamwork.
An example of our responsive approach can be seen in the modifications made to cadet training during
the pandemic. We’ve worked extremely closely with colleges and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to ensure colleges can deliver ‘back-to-back phasing’ for cadets during this Covid pandemic. This means that if cadets are unable to obtain sea time, they are able to complete phases 1 and 3 together, and also 3 and 5 together.
While this is not how we would traditionally deliver cadet training, this will go a long way towards alleviating large backlogs of students waiting to go to sea and will allow them to complete their training in a timely manner. We have monitored feedback from cadets regarding these changes to gauge the impact on them, and the feedback has been largely positive.
This willingness to respond to circumstances and evolve as a result of the knowledge we’ve gained is actually central to our approach at the UK Chamber of Shipping. We are very conscious of the fact that the industry is changing rapidly and that we need to train cadets in a manner that allows them to make responsive rather than predictive choices, especially as they emerge as leaders of these industries.
Our current concern rests on the fact that there is a reduction in the number of cadets coming into training. Under the circumstances this is somewhat inevitable as Covid-19 has meant that companies are under financial constraints. The short-term effect of the pandemic on recruitment has seen some companies reduce their cost commitments and lay up vessels. This will affect their core training commitment and will inevitably lead to a drop in the number of cadets being sponsored.
One huge positive from the Covid-19 crisis has been the raising of the profile of our seafarers and how essential they are to the running of the global supply chain. Distribution of essential goods is critical,and this tells me clearly that regardless of where the industry moves in the future, crew will be a necessary component in global trade. While we may see a slightly reduced crew due to the advent of autonomy and technological advancement in shipping, we will still require skilled seafarers to make critical decisions that are responsive to the needs of an ever-changing world. It is therefore important that we ensure our UK seafarers are equipped with the necessary skills, not just for technical operations, but also for high-level decision making.
A key element to the training we provide is a holistic approach to the maritime sector. We are aware that we are educating future leaders, so it is vital that these individuals have a deeply rooted understanding of the industry. This involves ensuring their awareness and investment in the challenges of finance, environmental impact and good business acumen to ensure they can contribute in a positive way towards the growth of our industry.
The MNTB’s standards of training and education combined with Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) provide our cadets with the knowledge to understand how and why various systems and regulations are necessary. But training is more than that. It’s about equipping our future seafarers with transferable skills and the ability to make a choice and to develop and grow whether that be in a position on board or ashore.
We are all part of a global industry that is going to play a huge role in our future. We are constantly discussing and reviewing the needs of the industry, particularly regarding Brexit, and we are keen to work with companies that share our vision. Whilst we acknowledge that British cadets are more expensive, that cost element comes with a very high quality of training and education that will give the employer the assurance that the seafarer they employ has the
skillset they need to function in an industry that is rapidly evolving.
Photo: Robert Kondrasiuk 1st Officer – Helideck Fire Drill
Photo: Capt Nikolay Sheptukhin Master – Training
Photo: Gaurav Sasane 3rd Officer – Life at Sea, Working Aloft