Training not only improves crew competence and skills, it helps ensure morale remains high during periods of business change
As the offshore sector tackles the pressures of moving out of a prolonged market downturn, vessel operators need to ensure their crews are well trained and remain motivated.
There have been a number of mergers, acquisitions and company failures during the last four years as the offshore sector has had to evolve in a lower oil price market and this can have significant ramifications for staff. For example, the merger of three Norwegian vessel operators into SolstadFarstad led to multiple changes to that workforce.
There are others in the pipeline, with McDermott’s proposed merger with CB&I and plans for Schlumberger and Subsea 7 to form a joint venture, according to Dynama regional director for the northern hemisphere Lee Clarke. Dynama produces workforce management programmes that include elements of crew training and competence tracking.
Mergers make sense in the boardroom, but can leave offshore crews demotivated and demoralised, which can have a detrimental impact on business, said Mr Clarke.
Mr Clarke suggested that industry consolidation has a major impact on the workforce and companies need to have methods to prevent offshore teams from becoming demoralised. He said vessel owners that are involved in industry consolidation need to ensure they communicate the benefits to the workforce “to settle nerves and maintain productivity”.
They need to ensure that staffing requirements are combined with physical assets such as the vessels and other equipment and that crew have the “correct qualifications to deliver compliant and successful offshore projects on time and on budget”.
There also needs to be stability of the business after a merger or acquisition and companies need to be prepared for an uplift in the offshore industry, that would include growth, said Mr Clarke. He believes consolidated companies need “a variety of skills and equipment to meet the diverse capabilities and challenges”. Training is a key requirement of this. It would also be important for vessel owners looking to diversify into offshore renewables.
“Where possible, maintain business as usual with meaningful training programmes and a clear career path,” he advised. “Take simple steps that increase employee engagement and highlight the potential for new opportunities,” said Mr Clarke.
Training should be an integral aspect for an offshore vessel owner going through mergers and acquisitions, or a consolidation of their own businesses. It should include a blend of programmes, courses, simulation and mentoring that delivers the best outcomes for staff and the company.
“Cheaper than having an accident”
Training is vital across the whole of the offshore vessel sector, not just in companies involved in consolidation. It is essential to maintain safety levels and for career development, said Transas leader with Wärtsilä Voyage Solutions, Frank Coles.
He said that training “is inexpensive compared with the cost of an accident and loss of life.” Simulator-based technology would be a vital element of a training regime, especially in offshore, where crews would be working with heavy equipment in sometimes harsh conditions on multi-million-dollar projects.
This is one of the drivers for investment in simulators in academies worldwide. “We have seen increasing demand for full size simulators in schools and for moving more people through simulation training,” said Mr Coles.
“Simulation removes the dangers and allows trainees to do scenarios,” he said. It is also more environmentally friendly than putting trainees through actual operations purely for training: “It is green technology as there are no emissions and it is good for running exercises with scores for measuring improvements in a structured environment.” Simulators enable more progressive training and more professional development, he added.
Transas, which was acquired by Wärtsilä in May this year, has focused on improving fidelity of its simulation programmes so that they appear as life-like as possible to trainees. It has combined full mission bridge and engineroom simulators and incorporated elements such as dynamic positioning and crane simulators to produce a digital twin of a full vessel.
Mr Coles said improving fidelity involves “refinements in algorithms and mathematic models” and includes additional data from vessel technical specifications. Transas engineers go on board vessels that they base digital models on to take measurements. “Then we fine-tune the simulation until masters can tell us it is close to the real thing.”
The next step is to add environmental information, such as weather, ocean conditions, tides and currents. Offshore infrastructure would also be included if training involves vessels interacting with platforms, offshore turbines or floating production systems. Sound can also be added to the programmes. “Then we are at a point that it is fairly close to the real thing,” said Mr Coles.
He is an advocate for training seafarers on whole systems, not just individual elements. For example, using full mission bridge simulators compared with conducting just ECDIS courses. Mr Coles also believes in the importance of continuous training and the development of competences.
“Vessel officers should use simulators once or twice a year to retain their skills,” he said. Retraining could also be conducted on a desktop simulator onshore, or on a ship if the owner has invested in one. “We expect to see more desktop simulators on ships,” he said. New crew members could conduct e-learning and desktop simulator courses within the first few days of joining a vessel and then “every three months do the courses again”.
Simulation training is then about maintaining skills. “Certification is one thing and competence is another,” said Mr Coles. “It measures all skills on one platform to become an integrated certificate.”
Gamification in e-learning
E-learning is another method of onboard and onshore training. It involves conducting computer-based training courses, using either an online connection or an already downloaded platform.
KVH subsidiary Videotel is one of the leaders in providing e-learning courses. It has developed gamification elements for existing and future courses, said Videotel creative content director Raal Harris. It first introduced elements of computer games into a training course in 2011 when it unveiled a course covering entry into enclosed spaces, following deaths of seafarers on an offshore support vessel in Aberdeen.
Gamification involves setting trainees tasks to achieve in a video game environment and highlighting the consequences of their mistakes. Mr Harris said there is more interest in gamification for e-learning now than there was five years ago.
“We are now introducing these elements into our existing e-learning courses,” he said. This means seafarers can explore scenes and find objects or elements in a game environment as an addition to these courses. For those without the connectivity or hardware to use a gamification package there will still be a basic level to the course.
Videotel is also developing virtual reality (VR) training courses for engineering and safety requirements. Mr Harris expects the first of these courses will be available later this year and will be accessible using Oculus technology. This enables a user to apply a VR application on the latest generation of Android mobile phones.
Korean Register of Shipping has also developed VR training for its vessel surveyors and is applying this to other areas of shipping.