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Training Tips for Ship: Maritime Skills: Who Trains? Who Assesses?

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

November 13, 2022

Copyright WrightStudio/AdobeStock

Copyright WrightStudio/AdobeStock

Assessment is a special interest of mine, and it should be at or near the top of the list for anyone involved in maritime training. Why? Two reasons. First, because it is arguably more important than the training itself. And second, because in my experience most training administrators pay 95% of their attention to training, and only 5% to assessment. This means that assessment is often done poorly. So let’s turn our attention to some essential tips for assessment in maritime training.

This article presents one simple, but critical, assessment tip for improving the evaluation of skills in your officers and crew: a trainee should be taught and assessed by different people. That is, we should never allow a trainee’s trainer to be the same person as their assessor. Let’s discuss why this is important.
It is the job of the trainer to ensure a candidate learns all the required skills and knowledge for the job at hand. 

The assessor has a different job - that of ensuring that no candidate is assigned a job duty they are not prepared for. While these roles are inherently designed to achieve a common purpose, in some ways, they have (and should have) conflicting interests. The trainer is there to support, instruct, and provide resources. Therefore, the trainer should be a “safe” and supportive learning resource for the candidate regardless of the candidate’s abilities. The candidate should not feel any judgment from the trainer when they ask questions or practice skills. In contrast, the role of the assessor is not to support the trainee, but to evaluate the trainee. The assessor has a duty to determine if the trainee has the requisite knowledge and skills to perform efficiently and safely - since lives and fleet performance depend on it.

It can be helpful to think of the trainer as a producer and the assessor as a consumer. It is the job of the trainer to produce qualified candidates. It is the job of the assessor to critically appraise the fitness of these candidates for consumption. If the producer and consumer are the same person, then we have some conflicts which risk creating poor outcomes. It is easy to find examples.

First, if the trainer knows the exact nature of the assessment which is to follow, human nature will cause him/her to “train to the test” because it will reflect well on the trainer if the candidate performs well in the assessment. The problem, however, is that assessments can never be comprehensive. Therefore, trainees must always assume *everything* will be tested, even though this is never the case. By separating trainer and assessor (and keeping knowledge of specific assessment details from the trainer) then we provide a strong incentive for comprehensive training not only for the trainee, but also for the trainer.

Second, if the assessor is also the person who performed the training, then they are in a conflicting position because failing the candidate reflects poorly on their ability as a trainer. Likewise, the relationship they establish with a candidate during training may cause them to be less objective when it comes time for assessment. This is important in the maritime industry where many of the skill-based assessments can be subjective in nature.

And third, if the trainer and assessor are the same person, then there is no clear line between training and assessment. There should be. If not, the candidate will feel (correctly) that they are being assessed during training. This may make them reluctant to ask important questions, seek clarifications, or ask for more practice time for fear that it will reveal their lack of knowledge or abilities. This greatly undermines the effectiveness of the training period.

The solution therefore is an easy one. For any particular candidate, ensure that their trainer and their assessor are two different people, and that each one clearly understands his or her role. Not only does it solve the issues raised above, but it also adds an element of redundancy ensuring that no single failure point will result in the clearance of an unqualified candidate. This is simply good practice, but rarely done.

There is much much more to say on this critically important topic of assessment, and we will cover it again in upcoming editions of Training Tips for Ships. Until then, thank you for reading and sail safely!

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