Knowledge is power and, says training consultant Gareth Mathias, eLearning in the maritime sector empowers not only the seafarers it is created for, but shore staff tasked with building the competence of crews.
He believes that, while compliance and technical training gives crews the self-confidence and self-belief to perform their day-to-day role, data surrounding course uptake and completions is an essential knowledge source for crew and training managers.
“Ensuring that seafarers have access to the training that will build their skills is critical but so too is engaging with staff to understand their training needs,” said Gareth, an offshore training consultant and eLearning content writer.
"It’s not just about listening to their feedback about incidents on board and being able to identify training gaps that will help stop these incidents from happening. It’s also about understanding their very specific needs, and that those needs vary from ship to ship.
“Nobody wants to be trained in something they don’t need, and office staff must understand that crews need the right training for the right environment. The great thing about eLearning is that it produces data that can help inform that process.
“If one particular course has a low number of completions on a ship, a training manager needs to take a deeper inspection and ask – why? Often, it’s nothing to do with an unwillingness on the part of seafarers to learn, more that the training just isn’t relevant and needs to be replaced.”
Gareth is one of the team of subject matter experts behind a new suite of maritime-specific eLearning courses developed by Mintra – a digital learning specialist with an established track record in helping keep the workforces of safety-critical industries compliant and competent.
A trusted partner of the industry for over 30 years, Mintra has significantly increased its offering in the maritime space this year. It acquired digital learning and crew competence management experts Safebridge in February and over the past three months has more than doubled the number of titles in its own maritime eLearning course library from 100 to 234.
The majority of courses are at an awareness level, and the input of subject matter experts like Gareth ensures they are realistic to the workplace environment. Although statistics from insurers Allianz in the Safety & Shipping Review 2020 show a 23% reduction in the number of ships lost in 2019 – 41 compared to 53 the previous year – incidents are on the rise.
There were 2,815 incidents across the maritime sector in 2019 – an increase of 5% on 2018 – and earlier this year the industry came under the microscope very publicly with the six-day blockage of the Suez Canal by the container ship Ever Given.
Gareth sought out a career at sea at a young age: he grew up in Milford Haven, Wales – one of the biggest ports in the UK – and wanted to follow in the footsteps of his family, who had also been to sea.
He worked in the industry over 15 years and during that time progressed from cadet to chief officer. His career with P&O Containers, P&O Nedlloyd and Maersk Line saw him work on deep sea ocean-going container vessels up to 9000teu, and tasked with operations such as safe navigation, ship handling, cargo and dry dock activities.
Gareth later moved to the energy sector and spent several years working in the North Sea as a barge master, and three years as an offshore installation manager (OIM).
He put his industry experience to use as the general manager of Clyde Training Solutions following a downturn in North Sea production, and now runs his own consultancy service. Gareth is passionate about safety standards in the maritime industry and feels that appropriate and relevant training empowers seafarers to act safe and be safe.
During his many years at sea he witnessed numerous incidents where the safety of individuals and the vessel was at risk, including a fire on board. He saw his colleagues sustain injuries, and even witnessed the MEDIVAC of a sick crew member.
Gareth said: “I believe that eLearning courses empower seafarers to take a step back and challenge what they may experience on board. Like any industry, there may be an element of ‘we’ve always done it that way’, but training gives them confidence to push back and point out that there is another, safer way.
“What I enjoy most about the work I’m doing with Mintra is that they don’t create 45-minute courses of pretty slides. They share my belief that the training must mean something: if it is not going to create change or make seafarers safe at work then it is pointless.
“And that’s the view that must be taken by employers. When companies look towards competency, they should not look at it as a tick box exercise – they need to be asking, ‘is this training making a difference?’ and ‘is the training being made available to our crews making a difference to safety?’
“It’s too often the case that training involves watching a video and, if you’re lucky, there may be some exam questions at the end. But there’s just no engagement. How does that style of learning improve competency or demonstrate understanding?
“Employers must allow for the development of proper competency if they want to see a reduction of accidents in high risk environments.”
Courses written for Mintra by Gareth include anchoring, rescue and fast rescue boats, and heavy weather. Like all Mintra’s eLearning titles, the new maritime courses are delivered online, allowing training to be taken anytime, anywhere on an internet-enabled device.
Customers using Mintra’s competency and learning management system, Trainingportal, also have the option of using an offline version of the software which enables seafarers to undertake training on board even at times of limited or no connectivity.
“The offline version is an incredibly important tool for the maritime sector,” said Gareth. “Home life is very precious when you work at sea because you have so little of it. It is not easy to give up that hard-earned time at home to go to a training centre for a few days to complete courses.
“Training on board also contributes to wellbeing. Being on a ship can be tough at times. You work there, you live there, and you rest there. It can be a very lonely life and something that contributes positively to that is welcomed on board.
“While there will still be a need for some level of physical training courses, I think eLearning – especially if it is engaging - is the way forward. The engaging element is critical because the sea is a dangerous place. If we can demonstrate that through learning and demonstrate what can go wrong, then we give seafarers that reality check.
“eLearning also fills a very important gap. Health and safety best practice has evolved so much from when I was a cadet – I remember doing firefighting training and my hair getting singed – and much of what was acceptable then is not now. Engaging content, animations and videos create a realistic learning experience without the risk.
“I feel the work I’m doing with Mintra is really worthwhile and I feel a genuine sense of pride. It may not be teaching marine personnel and having face to face contact with them at college, but writing courses still feels like I am mentoring, helping them to develop knowledge and careers.”