He has already brought about a huge change in methodologies at Mintra – the digital learning and crew competence specialist where he now works as a product manager – and wants to see other providers take the same approach if they are serious about keeping people safe at sea.
Razvan has become Mintra’s link between the ship and the shore, sharing his expert knowledge among the team of nautical authors and content developers that are bringing new maritime eLearning courses to market on a near weekly basis.
“I saw a lot of problems and challenges that the seafarers were dealing with while I worked on board the ship. I do not want to accept that the world has to be what it is: I wanted to solve some of those problems and make the lives of seafarers better,” he explained.
“On board a ship you are at the sharp end, but I realised that if I really wanted to be a catalyst to change and change things for the better, then I needed to be at the blunt end on the shore where the policies and procedures are being made.
“I think if you ask anyone working on board a ship about the main difficulties they face, it’s usually a combination of factors, but it largely boils down to complying with the decisions that are being made onshore. Often, those decisions may not make any sense to the reality of how seafarers experience life on board.
“The staff in the office and the crew on board are often at odds with one another. As the crew sees it, staff on shore may not fully understand what it is like to do the job in a very constricted way. I hope that I can bridge the gap between the shore and the vessel and hope that I have already made some progress.”
Razvan, who is based in Mintra’s office in Limassol, Cyprus, originally wanted to study engineering when he completed his schooling in his native Romania. However, a job advertisement and some words of encouragement from the seafarer father of a friend put him on an entirely different trajectory.
He applied to nautical college and began working on container ships as a deck cadet, working his way up the ranks to second officer. Within four years he had visited almost every corner in the world, providing safe passage to a wide range of consumer goods from fruit to furniture.
Razvan admits that he had what is known as sea blindness – a general lack of awareness about the crucial role the shipping industry plays in the transportation of 90% of the world’s goods – but within a matter of days of his first trip he came to understand that it is the backbone of global trade.
Over time he also became acutely aware of just how inhospitable and dangerous the marine environment can be, having tackled emergency situations and witnessing many other low-level injuries involving fellow seafarers.
Razvan began to scrutinise marine accident reports and felt a growing sense of frustration at how most incidents were determined to have involved some level of human error.
He explained: “It’s not the case that if you follow the rules, procedures and checklists and stay in the path of what is defined as safe by the company or other third parties then everything will be okay. That’s misguided. What I came to realise working on ships is that human error is not the cause – it is an effect of deeper systemic issues and it should be the beginning of an investigation, not the conclusion.
“When I first came to Mintra – or Safebridge as it was back then before it was acquired by Minta – I joined as a nautical instructor/author and then as a team leader of a team of eight people creating eLearning courses.
“In developing courses for seafarers, I changed the focus of the team, so they were more aware of the impact these courses have on seafarers’ lives and how important it was to empathise with them. They all have a training matrix where they need to undertake eLearning, but most would agree that content rarely related to what we were doing and had little influence on performance or behaviour.
“Simply, it didn’t relate to the reality of our world. I knew the flaws in the courses and how they measured against the expectations of the crew, so I wanted to help play a role in creating eLearning that would change their behaviour.
“eLearning is a means to and end: the main purpose is to try and change behaviour and get seafarers to behave how you want them to. I knew that in order to make the content relevant and appealing, we had to make it better.
“When you want to bring change, it can be uncomfortable because people do not like change. It was difficult in the beginning and my colleagues were a little sceptical. There was a focus on lower development time – faster, cheaper, better - but faster and cheaper are a contradiction of better.
“I could understand their reaction to what I was proposing because they had never worked on ships. I used techniques like showing them videos and photographs from my time on board to try and help them understand how the courses we were building were supposed to help seafarers.”
That culture change and emphasis on really understanding the day-to-day problems encountered by the seafarers resonated across the whole organisation. Creating learning content that empathises with their situation is now a hallmark of Mintra’s approach to course development and is what sets it apart from others in the market.
Razvan is one of several former seafarers with direct industry experience working in Mintra, and some of the industry’s most respected subject matter experts are also brought in to work with the company’s learning and development teams to create best-in-class training.
Razvan said: “We live and work in challenging times. Apart from the pandemic, it’s the rapid pace of adopting new technologies that can be difficult for seafarers. This might have an undesired effect on them. Besides the daily work challenges, design constraints, not being able to go ashore or go home, personal issues, and so on, they must use more digital tools and products which might not always provide a great user experience.
“Our job as a training provider is to make their life easier, by empowering them to become experts in those safety-relevant tools while still acknowledging the full picture of the environment they operate in.”