Being able to access the internet at the touch of a button or click of a mouse is something we’ve come to accept as a natural part of our daily lives. Whether it’s sending emails on the daily commute, video calling colleagues on the other side of the world, or relaxing in the evening by streaming a movie, we take 24/7 connectivity for granted.
But what if you spend a large part of your working life in an often harsh and inhospitable environment where internet access is at best patchy and at worst non-existent? It’s a challenge facing thousands of seafarers on board ships in the maritime industry. For Stolt Tankers the main reason for having offline content is to ensure quality delivery to the learner at all times, independent of the internet connection.
The company, which has a 100-strong fleet of chemical tankers, wanted to develop a new training and competency management system for the professional development of its 5,000 employees onboard and on leave.
As well as providing industry-standard eLearning courses, Stolt wanted flexibility so that it could add its own content and build a competency system across all roles and requirements. There was a need to utilise the system for career management, especially cadets joining the fleet so that they could roadmap the steps needed to rise through the ranks.
Ensuring that offshore staff were able to have the same access to the system as their onshore colleagues was a critical element required of the solution, but Stolt training and development manager Arnoud van de Wiel found that few companies were able to deliver.
Mintra, however, has been a trusted partner of offshore operators for over 30 years and understands the very specific challenges faced by those working in the marine environment.
Mr van de Wiel said: “We reviewed several options, both maritime and non-maritime, and we found that the main things we needed were an offline component to support the local training on board; industry-standard eLearning to cover the basics, and the main component was the flexibility to develop our ideas on eLearning and competency management.
“In the end, we found there were only a few candidates that could fit the bill. We could see the possibilities that Mintra’s functionality offered and that made the difference.”
Trainingportal is Mintra’s flagship solution. It combines a comprehensive digital learning library and training experience with a robust competence management system that allows companies to ensure employees receive the right training at the right time.
It has been developed and refined over the past 20 years: one of the main advances in that time has been the creation of an offline version in response to the connectivity issues that ships frequently experience out of port.
Mintra’s team developed a proposal that took account of Stolt’s specific needs. It would need to be developed quickly due to external time constraints, be light on administrative burdens, and above all, allow seafarers to undertake learning effectively.
Implementation was split between five distinct areas – populating the solution with reference data and users on the online version; installing Trainingportal offline on the fleet; configuring the user set-up and interfacing the user profiles; migrating legacy system data and processes, and choosing the learning content.
In order to reduce the administrative burden faced in managing such a huge number of staff and vessels, Mintra set up automatic triggers that assigned personnel mandatory courses based on their job roles.
The online version was rolled out initially, and this only served to highlight the need to deliver the offline element of the database as quickly as possible. “From the moment we started early with our Trainingportal online only, the ships reported hanging content, staggering voices, and loading circles turning, indicating the need for an offline component was correct,” explained Mr van de Wiel.
As soon as the offline version was delivered, the benefits were clear. Employees were carrying out training at any point in time instead of having to wait for a period of connectivity – this, in turn, meant they could use their time onboard more efficiently.
Offline synchronises with online daily or whenever a connection is available, and this has resulted in reduced workload along with accurate insights and reports on the use of the system. Administrators accessing Trainingportal through the online platform can view the synchronisation status for all remote sites and from here, they can schedule ad hoc synchronisations as well as forcing user accounts and courses to show on the offline platform. Remote sites are constantly monitored by Mintra as part of the offline solution.
The live status reporting tool has also been welcomed by onshore and ship administrators as this gives an overview of training requirements onboard each vessel. So, while employees increase their training coverage, Stolt experiences an improvement in their processes and personal development.
Mr van de Wiel said: “The main challenge remains setting your thoughts aside on how things worked in the application before and really seeing the new application as it was designed and intended to be used. That takes the most effort – actually changing yourself.
“For me, the biggest challenge was and still is the need for scalability and even more flexibility when dealing with 40 ranks, 100 ships, 4,000 seafarers, several hundred competence points, and changing assessors. You can see how quickly that adds up. The good thing is Mintra is listening and we are getting some of our requests updated in the system to help us manage this.
“We are now up and running with 100 offline installations, moving around 4,000 active seafarers from ship to ship and back again to shore where they can access the online. The accessibility of the same eLearning content at home or onboard, along with making the content targeted and Stolt-specific, has started to put trust into people that this tool is for them to develop and not for the shore to control compliance.
“We have a small selection of standard content and we are about to surpass that with a number of Stolt-developed eLearning. We will soon start developing on the competence part, linking the industry standard content and the Stolt-specific content, and housing that in our career management system.
“We see the offline learning management system working well for its intended purpose - smooth delivery of content on remote locations.”
Stolt also made an integration to their existing crewing system to further streamline processes and drive efficiencies. Now, when a new employee is entered into Stolt’s HR platform, a Trainingportal user profile is automatically generated.
Mariann Aase, product support advisor at Mintra, spearheaded the team responsible for setting up Stolt with Trainingportal. She has extensive experience working with global operators to produce best-in-class training and competency solutions.
Although a logistically challenging project, the improvements have been impressive. She said: “The benefit of having an offline solution was clear. It would provide Stolt with a standardised offline platform across the entire fleet with easy and simple installation steps which can be automated.
“Stolt’s large fleet with over 100 vessels has been an excellent test of Trainingportal’s offline capabilities and capability of handling training requirements offshore.”
Mintra provides free ECDIS training to City University of Applied Sciences Bremen students