With fleets spread over 25,000 miles of waterways, the inland tow and barge industry faces training and communication challenges intensified in comparison to other sectors of the maritime industry. Even though they may be close to home, inland waterways crew are constantly on the move and lunch bucket crews need to preserve valuable time spent onboard and commuting. The abundance of locks, bridges and other traffic along the waterways keeps crew busy performing critical navigation duties, making it essential that time spent on training is efficient and maximizes value. Large operators face the challenge of constantly improving the value of training dollars spent and driving industry best practices. Additionally smaller operators require affordable, quality training to increase the competitive ability of their crews against companies with significantly larger training budgets. Furthermore, the high turnover rates in this sector creates increased safety risks and heightens the demands on training departments to provide properly trained crew efficiently.
Regardless of the company size, training is an investment that directly affects the bottom line by decreasing losses. Lost time and injury rates have dropped substantially in the inland sector since more training options have become available through institutions like the Seamen's Church and safety programs like the American Waterways Operator's (AWO) Responsible Carrier Program (RCP) have been established. A current goal for the sector is to further improve the human factors related to safety performance through training people properly. The key challenge for training activities is to increase efforts in the most economical manner, increasing the value of the time and monies spent on training. "Blended Learning" is the approach put forward by educational experts as the best way to achieve this result.
Benefits of Computer-Based Training
Blended learning targets training objectives with the best delivery methods to maximize results. Computer-based training either
on CD Rom or over the Internet is part of a complete training and development program including practical exercises and drills, mentoring and coaching, performance assessment and testing. For what is called for "knowledge transfer" (the learning and retention of factual, theoretical and conceptual information related to practical skills, regulations and policy) multimedia computer-based training is statistically proven to delivery the best results. Multi-media training systems have this advantage because they require the trainee to engage more fully in the learning process as compared to passive training methods such as classroom lectures or videotapes.
Intuitive and simple to use interfaces have overcome any previous concerns about the level of computer skills required to carry out computer-based training. Placing laptop computers onboard is a creative solution utilized by some operators to circumvent the low level of computerization onboard. This method allows the benefits of distance learning to be a gained by operators unable to make any significant onboard technology investments, or during the interim for fleets undergoing technical modernization. In addition, some smaller operators without shore training facilities are loading training programs onto laptop computers to be loaned out for use by shore employees or crew while not onboard. The benefits of CBT are so apparent that innovative inland operators are already moving ahead of the curve to adopt solutions.
Maximizing the value of training at Kirby
Kirby Corporation (KEX)
is a strong supporter of training innovation and operates an impressive corporate training facility in Channel View, Texas. Maximizing the value of the time spent at the facility is a strategic goal for Kirby. Roy Murphy, Corporate Training Manager, sees great opportunity for Kirby to achieve this goal through moving more and more of traditional instructor led courses to CBT/web-based training. Some courses currently offered by the center will be conducted entirely in this manner, and the more skill intensive courses will utilize the "blended approach" whereby the knowledge-based components are delivered via CBT/web-based training and the skills portion taught through traditional instructor led training. Mr. Murphy explains, "This approach will enable us to significantly reduce the time a trainee spends at the center and result in a reduction of training costs. Overall we think that CBT/web-based training on it's own or in the blended approach holds great promise. This technology will help us over come the problems we face regarding costs, delivery, and effectiveness of training programming."
Merging maritime and CBT expertise at Seagull
Seagull Maritime Information Technology Inc., established in 1991, focuses on computer-based training for the maritime industry and to date is the only supplier with US Coast Guard approval for online programs. Seagull initial products included a CD Rom Library of STCW'95 training courses, training administration programs and online "learning portals" for agencies such as NOAA and operators such as Polar Tankers. Other innovative custom products include ship familiarization CBT's. Due to this experience, Seagull is a key player in the movement toward CBT/web-based training within the inland sector. Seagull's North American president, Rob Muller asserts that "the inland industry is a natural fit for all the benefits that distance learning has to offer" given the geographical distance spanned by carriers, high turnover in some ranks and busy workdays onboard".
The blended approach is already in place with some Seagull training programs. Seagull's online Basic Safety Training (BST) currently used by a number of clients provides knowledge portion of the training online whilst the practical part of training is conducted at partner schools and facilities. Most recently, the blended approach has been applied to Seagull's approved CBT training solution for vessel security officers and general security awareness relative to the US Coast Guard Security Regulations and the ISPS code. The vessel security-training program combines the knowledge portion of training on CBT or online with a workbook for practical drills and exercises submitted and marked before a formal certificate is issued.
The blended learning approach can be applied in many other ways. Beneficial to both operators and training facilities, one method sees trainees completing the knowledge portion and assessment of any course online or by CBT before
reporting to the training site. This method ensures that trainees arrive with the same level of knowledge and can focus their time at the training facility on practical skills and face-to-face coaching by the instructor.
The inland tow and barge industry is striving to further improve safety performance by implementing measures such as training programs that address the human factor. Training people plays a critical role in safety performance, and factors specific to the inland sector require that innovative solutions be applied to training challenges. The use of CBT/web-delivered training either alone or as part of a "blended approach" is under adoption by industry leaders such as Kirby Corporation to maximize the value of training efforts. CBT/web-delivery training is ideal for situations where timeliness, consistency, and cost effectiveness are required, along with assessment, administrative and record keeping tools. The best training content is factual, conceptual or theoretical information relating to practical skill, regulations, licensing and company policies and procedures. When sourcing suppliers, look for providers such as Seagull who have proven experience and expertise with maritime content, training programs and CBT/web-delivered technology along with endorsements from regulatory bodies. CBT/web-delivered training is ideal for regulatory compliance such as the upcoming ISPS and US Coastguard security requirements. After the cost and effort of creating ship security plans, many companies will be looking for the best value for security and other training which CBT/web-delivered programs can provide.