Maritime training in a time of COVID
COVID-19 has impacted every area of shipping, and nowhere more severely than in training of seafarers. Maritime education and training levels have been reduced by both operators and training institutions. At the same time, the number of seafarers paying for their own training in 2021 increased to more than half.
This year’s Maritime Training Insights Database (MarTID) report reveals that while training institutions have seen their budgets rise, vessel operators saw the amount of money spent on training fall in 2021.
Nearly 70% of operators felt that overall training delivery was reduced and 17% saw a budget decrease of more than 75%. More than 60% of operators expect that this training slowdown has created a backlog which will have to be cleared as the effects of the pandemic ease.
Previous surveys have revealed a consistent trend of growth in training budgets among vessel operators but this year 30% reported a decrease in their training budget for 2021 when compared to 2020, while another 50% saw no increase in their budgets.
Maritime training institutions were less affected with 45% increased their training budget over the previous year and almost 60% indicated that they expect the budgets to increase in coming year.
Of those that did provide training last year, face-to-face classroom training was still cited as the most commonly used training method, with 85% of operators using it to a high or medium degree. Nonetheless, the actual volume of face-to-face training declined sharply, with 60% of respondents reporting a decrease from the previous year and a further 25% expect to use it less in the coming year.
This change is reflected by the boom in e-learning, using internet-based resources, which was reported to be in high or medium usage by 76% of respondents. Some 80% of operators saw an increase in e-learning usage and three quarters of respondents anticipate a further increase in the coming year.
This is hardly unexpected for the second year in which almost all operators reported that their ability to deliver training was affected by travel restrictions and other impediments.
More worryingly perhaps, the report found a notable increase in the numbers of seafarers paying for their own training, with than half of the respondents saying they had self-funded their training. Some 20% of seafarers responded that they allocated more than a fifth of their annual income to personal seafarer training.
The impact of the pandemic has also caused seafarers to rethink their career as seafarers potentially choosing another profession. According to the report, one third of responding seafarers report that they are less likely to remain in their current career.
Writing in the foreword to the report, John Allen, Director of Maritime Professional Development at cruise line Carnival Corporation notes that after two years of disruption, there remain as many questions as answers in terms of the best means to keep seafarers’ education and training up to date.
He asks whether the increased use of online learning remain the preferred ‘weapon of choice’, whether older, established approaches to training and education become the norm again, or if the industry will see a more coherent and blended approach mixing online and face-to-face learning in future.
He adds that the maritime training community was “forced into an emergent, reactive position to maintain safety and compliance. The volume of computer-based training grew rapidly, sometimes with an inevitable compromise in quality due to the required urgency of action”. The results have been mixed, from providers who have simply posted the classroom program online to excellent examples of pre-learning, online sessions and follow up webinars.
“There is little doubt, however, that online learning’s improved access, reduced environmental footprint, and lower cost have been well noted by training administrators and trainees alike,” he adds.
As the report makes clear, the pandemic and the responses of different jurisdictions have affected many education and training regimes adversely. Despite these challenges the world’s ships continued to move and have become even more critical for sustaining the transport of essential goods (as well as non-essential ones). However, this has come at a cost for training: schedules have been disrupted and investments have had to be made to allow for online interventions where possible.
It concludes that the inability of seafarers to join or sign off from their ships and present themselves for training, together with limited access to institutions for optimum training will have a medium to long-term effect on the availability of competent seafarers, even when discounting the potential increase of attrition rates related to seafaring as a career.
While one-third of seafarers responding to the survey indicated that they are likely to remain in the seafaring career despite the negative effects of the pandemic, we should be concerned that these key workers continue to receive the training they need to keep themselves and their ships safe.