The New Gold Standard in Training
In a maritime environment where the benchmark for competence now far exceeds mere compliance with STCW and flag state benchmarks, a new generation of simulation technology is helping to measure real mariner capabilities. At the heart of it all is Transas and one of its primary customers, Maritime Professional Training.
At the Transas 2013 Users Conference, held this summer in Maryland, USA, the best and brightest that maritime training and simulation has to offer came together for a four-day summit. As simulation training roars into high fidelity with improved data input, customer interaction and some amazing technology, training schools and their customers have embraced the changes with vigor. As they do, the concept known simply as Performance-Based Assessments are changing the way shipowners and operators hire mariners and the way the training institutions deliver training. Neither will ever be the same again.
Customer “give and take,” says Transas USA President George Toma, is necessary to develop the next generation of high-tech training aids. That said; customer interaction is just one of several critical variables impacting marine simulation training development today – and tomorrow. To that end, Andrey Sitkov, Transas Marine Internal’s simulation Business Manager, told Transas users in August that future trends and challenges in maritime simulation include the growth in the energy and offshore markets, better data derived from wind, wave, tidal and ocean currents, the coming Polar Codes, and the advent of piracy as a lingering problem for international shipping.
Transas European Sales Director Evgeny Drumachik, looking to the future, cited three chief simulation drivers; regulatory change, non-regulatory requirements (customer specific tasks that need to be satisfied) and evolving technology. According to Drumachik, since STCW’95 was adopted, ‘non-regulatory requirements’ trend of simulators development have, with increasing pace, overtaken ‘regulatory’ trend. Today the gap between regulatory and non-regulatory trends keeps growing. At the same time, ‘Technological’ trends were billed as the ‘enabler’ of further users’ non-regulated requirements to advance training features of new simulators.
From the training side of the equation, Maritime Professional Training (MPT) Managing Director Amy Beavers told MarPro in August, “Our training involves not only Performance-Based assessments, but also focuses on a growing ‘overreliance on technology’ being seen in the maritime community.” Indeed, MPT’s own version of assessments – ‘virtual vetting’ – is something that a broad, growing spectrum of clients are asking for.
Today, STCW standards are merely base requirements. For that reason, business related tasks and competencies will be the drivers for what comes next. Drumachik insists, “No longer will industry accept learning on generic simulation platforms. The move towards the ability to swap out equipment and controls, to duplicate and closely mimic actual conditions at sea for the customer’s own equipment, will be very important.” Simulator layout and equipment set must now be adaptable for multiple vessel types and purposes – navigational and engine rooms alike – including, but not limited to Tugs, Offshore Vessels, Cruise Ships, Naval Ships, LNG and a host of others. As simulation training evolves, however, the need to keep the price reasonable for the increasing numbers of mariners who need it will be just as important.
Transas customer and maritime training provider MPT started over 30 years ago as a result of what was perceived by its founders as a lack of training available for the industry, outside of the academy and union system.
Now, arguably the largest privately held training facility in the country with over 125 approved programs and over 50,000 square feet of facilities, its clients come from every sector. As ample testament to the diversity and flexibility in its training programs, that client split, says Captain Ted Morley, MPT’s Chief Operations Officer, comes with parity in numbers between the deep sea industries and the near shore or inland industries.
As maritime training schools everywhere ramp up to embrace Performance-based Assessments, the concept has been a staple at MPT for many years. An early adopter of the concept, MPT today is a leader in the field. Morley says, “We have long ago embraced performance based assessments, as have many of our client companies. Pre-vetting has been a staple for us for over 10 years. We see a logical up-tick in demand as more companies see the benefits (reduced accidents, reduced lost time, and reduced insurance premiums) of that concept. More and more segments are looking at changing their procedures to match that paradigm.”
Morley explains the MPT philosophy when it comes to training. “Everyone at MPT operates from the same position – if the student cannot successfully achieve the skill level, they don’t get certificated. That can be difficult, but everyone that comes to us understands that basic concept. Our client companies and individual students are looking for competence so they come to us realizing that the road ahead will be difficult but rewarding. All of our instructors are committed to the success of our students – work groups, homework, proficiency building practical exercises are all designed to assist the student achieve the standard. The student must be willing to work hard, as well.
We currently are seeing a better than 95 percent pass rate in most of our programs. Our 3rd Mate Unlimited students are passing the USCG tests at the RECs with better than a 98% first attempt pass rate. Students that are completing a course and are unable to pass it on their first attempt have the option to re-sit the course or a component of it, or get remedial training to help them get the concept. We also see students return to sea to get more experience and then come back in a few months to complete any practical assessments they were unsuccessful with.
But, training at MPT doesn’t stop when the student goes back to sea. “We provide a considerable amount of training and consulting to the cruise industry, we are also involved in onboard training for several major cruise operators as well – ensuring that the training makes the transition from the classroom to the vessel,” adds Morley.
Emerging Trends – and Solutions, too
From MPT’s considerable experience in the training arena, and looking at the training candidates that pass through MPT’s Fort Lauderdale-based doors on a daily basis, Morley says that the emerging trends are clear. “We see two areas of apparent weakness; the first being engineering competences. The technical aspects of modern engine rooms are requiring more and more training as the ‘apprenticeship’ programs of the past have gone away. The (reduced) crew sizes we see now require immediate ability as soon as the person signs on. There is no time for them to learn on the ship.
The second area is in the basics – technology is great and definitely helps us to do our job but the mariner still needs to be able to tie the basic knots, plot a fix using the stars, and they still need to be able to compute a course distance or a fuel consumption calculation. We feel these areas need to be addressed not only at the regulatory level, but also at the corporate level.
Alluding to Transas European Sales Director Evgeny Drumachik’s earlier comments, he added, “Regulations establish the minimum level of competence. Companies need to determine if the minimum level is good enough and if not, implement training programs within their fleets to improve the level of skill and abilities amongst their mariners.”
The Way Forward
For Transas, keeping up with its customers is important, but just one of many drivers for its growth and product development. Since the first iteration of the Users Conference in 2005, the number and diversity of the attendees has doubled, and during that eight year span, the Transas Simulation group has grown to be the second largest of the corporation, encompassing 200+ employees. The group regularly invests as much as 25 percent of its total revenues back into R&D, producing 15 new products into the market and more than 50 upgrades of existing products during that timeframe.
From the customer end of the equation, MPT’s Amy Beavers says that MPT pays for every one of those product upgrades. She explained, “It costs money. But, the upgrades give each student the most realistic outcome. Every time, Transas inserts something that makes something else more possible.” Continuing, she insists, “They (the upgrades) are worth it. But, our prices do not necessarily go up every time we spend on simulation, but we do it because of our desire to maintain MPT equipment with the ‘latest and greatest’ in new developments.”
Ted Morley expanded on the value of the upgrades and the MPT relationship with Transas. “Transas has been a key partner in working towards improving the level of realism in simulation. This has become very important as we look at the increase in training requirements and the shortage of time on the ships for mariners to complete training and assessments. MPT has, since their first simulator, had an on-going upgrade schedule. Every 6 months we evaluate the software and hardware we use, making enhancements as they become available. This has allowed our systems to stay at the cutting edge of technology and make full use of the Transas capabilities.”
Today, MPT is engaged in a large scale overhaul of their entire simulation facility, creating bigger bridges and engine rooms, adding even more features. Before that, Morley and MPT looked at over a dozen facilities from every major manufacturer. They eventually settled on Transas and have never looked back. Morley says that as the first privately-owned simulator in the country, there really wasn’t a model for what MPT wanted to create. He continued, “I had known George Toma for many years and had confidence that they could build what we had envisioned. That decision has proved itself many times over during these past 10 years. When we decided to create a DP lab, we didn’t want to just use the DP equipment; we wanted to integrate it with every other system on the bridge. We were able to build a lab with not only great real-world DP hardware, but also have radar/ARPA, ECDIS, radio communications, autopilot, navigational instruments, ships controls, and visual scenes, giving us the ability to teach the students not only DP, but how DP interfaces and works with the entire bridge as part of a system. At that time, that didn’t exist. Transas worked hard to create the interfaces that allowed us to have that level of integration. The uses for simulation go far beyond training itself, and can include skills assessment of personnel (hiring, promotions, etc.), R&D work for emerging and established markets and ports, Incident investigations, risk-related analysis (oil pollution, piracy, collisions, groundings) and many other applications. Take for example the growing, global demand for new, powerful and more maneuverable tug. The switch to Z-drive propulsion means a huge training challenge for Inland Towboat operators. And, climate change is driving simulation manufacturers and schools alike to develop training and platforms to develop ice navigation skills and even the monitoring of emissions monitoring.
Marine Simulation training will be used in a myriad of ways going forward. A key component of that growth will necessarily include a better data set – derived and collected from actual at sea experiences on board specific platforms. This will not only allow far more realistic training, but also provide a window into many other uses for the equipment. Going forward, research and development, accident evaluations, risk-based analysis and pre-employment evaluations will rapidly expand the use of this technology. And, because distance learning and Internet-based platforms are also coming, the “cloud” is clearly the limit.
Today, the Transas reach into simulation goes far beyond their relationship with MPT. With more than 1,300 organizations as customers, and boasting a reported 99 percent retention rate among that group, the work is never done. That’s because the customers themselves drive the innovation that Transas delivers. Performance-Based Assessments are now part of that value proposition. And, this summer, Transas users got a good look at what is coming next. In part, and because of them, it’s actually already here.
(As published in the 3Q edition of Maritime Professional - www.maritimeprofessional.com)