Enhancing seafarer training through the right use of technology

Enhancing seafarer training through the right use of technology
Viraf Chichgar
Head of Training, Fleet Manangement Training Institute
Published 13 Jan 2022

It was the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle who coined the phrase, “And yet the true creator is a necessity, which is the mother of invention” and there is no better way to describe how the Fleet Management Training Institute (FMTI) managed to adapt to the many barriers and challenges stemming from COVID and still provide important maritime training services to our seafarers. The team chose not to get overwhelmed but rather, get creative and leverage innovative, out-of-the-box thinking to transform challenges into opportunities to follow through on our commitment to our courageous seafarers at the frontlines of the pandemic.

Training in COVID times

From the start, our focus was to develop and deliver methods, which would bring training directly to the seafarers and workaround the many rules and restrictions that prevented travel and gathering in-person. We also had to make sure remote training would not compromise the quality and effectiveness of the training while balancing that with efficiency in managing the resources and capacity of our team.

The team was able to make this happen because in fact, long before COVID came into the picture, FMTI has been leveraging technology into our training capability, using tools like virtual classrooms, QR code embedded information transfer, and data capture, among others. This meant we were well-positioned to make a rather seamless transition from a fully physical classroom with in-person interaction to a fully virtual, online classroom setting, almost immediately. Technology platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams were very quickly adopted and analogue processes like taking paper-based attendance and conducting paper-based tests were replaced with software like Microsoft Forms and developing soft copies of course material (QR coded data packages) which could be downloaded on any mobile device. From a sustainability perspective, this was a bonus and allowed us to save on the usage of paper. These are just some of the examples of initiatives that we implemented across the board – both for officers and ratings, with newer training courses and more accurate, automated assessment methods introduced.

Engine Simulator – Main Engine control station

Seamless deliver using virtual technology

One of the biggest game-changers that really set FMTI apart in the market was our decision to introduce cloud-based simulators to our training curriculum. Partnering with our existing simulator provider, we introduced a new virtual approach to all our existing classes which normally use physical simulations for both the full mission ship and engine. To give you a sense of how this works, you can imagine that a candidate enters a virtual simulator room using their laptop (with a steady Internet connection). There, they get to access and monitor all the equipment and controls which they would normally handle in a physical simulator. The candidate team does its planning and resource management simultaneously by collaborating on Microsoft Teams. Using a cloud-based simulator allows FMTI to provide training ‘beyond borders’ whereby it doesn’t matter where a candidate is physically based as they can still receive the same high-quality training which was being provided with physical simulators.

Beyond the logistical benefits of using virtual learning tools, the cloud-based simulator offered many additional benefits. For instance, cloud-based simulators can be easily recreated at any time and capacity utilization can be scaled according to our needs and requirements. In fact, we can run up to three simultaneous courses of different subjects on the same day, unlike a physical simulator which could run only one batch of around 4 candidates. (Note: capacity can be increased by around 200% – 400% compared to a physical simulator.)

Before COVID, innovative concepts like cloud-based simulators were new and somewhat radical and truth be told it took some time for this approach to gain recognition and acceptance in the maritime industry. However, with a reputable training centre like FMTI taking the lead with innovation and seeing the success that we had, the influence on the industry to move in this direction soon followed. Classification societies were compelled to rethink their view on this matter and the global standards for Maritime Simulators had to be revised to include standards for cloud-based simulators – a concept unheard by most of our industry peers.

FMTI has been maximising the benefits of this technology for well over a year, and today we offer five cloud-based simulator courses with full approval from Class. In fact, one of our courses is even Flag approved; possibly the first achievement of this type in the world. We are very proud to have received recognition for our pioneering achievements, having received the award for ‘Innovation in Maritime Education and Training’ from the Maritime Trainers Guild.

On Cloud Engine Simulator – user view of ME Engine Operation Panel

FLEET expands its digital capability

In addition to cloud-based simulators, all FMTI’s training courses and curriculum have been adapted for digital learning. Our faculty members have been fully trained and certified to teach on our new digital platform and taken measures to refine and strengthen their expertise and ability to be informative, engaging, and receptive in the various workshops, events, and courses we deliver completely online. The team understands the challenges experienced by seafarers who are unaccustomed to online classrooms and thus we have taken various strategies to engage our candidates despite the lack of physical presence and interaction. This includes organising pre-class ice breaker quizzes, role-play sessions during online classes, and even introducing family experience sharing in safety-related classes. The level of interaction and feedback from candidates has been as positive as before COVID when we had physical classrooms.

FMTI also continues our ongoing series of webinars on a vast array of topics in addition to teaching, tracking, and assessing assignments for trainees via mobile-friendly virtual classrooms. With support from our robust in-house digital team, we also create technology solutions not just for training, but to develop customised products like web-based applications to help with record-keeping and administrative processes to the benefit of FMTI as well as other departments.

On Cloud Ship Simulator – user view while the vessel is underway

Collaboration is a driver of success

We continue to partner with top-notch third-party providers who are daring to do things differently, and together we are exploring ways to take our training to the next level using technology. It’s entirely possible that soon, assessments will not be static-driven solutions in the traditional Q&A format but rather use virtual simulator technology and Artificial Intelligence mapping to effectively track the competency level of a seafarer against standardised benchmarks. Without a doubt, technology is going to greatly improve our reach and scale, as well as our ability to analyse the effectiveness of the training provided.

FMTI also collaborates closely with several other departments in many respects, in particular our tertiary service, the Electronic Chart Display Information System (ECDIS) Support Cell. This team of highly capable experts have built a strong reputation within Fleet Management well as the broader maritime industry of having the highest levels of expertise on ECDIS and ENC matters. They provide input and participate in discussions with influential industry organisations such as the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), the UK Hydrographic Office (UHKO) and INTERTANKO, not to mention, key ECDIS manufacturers as well. Similar work is being carried out on the technical side, and as always, we are firm believers that collaborating and sharing best practices is imperative to ensure the industry is always striving to be at the top of its game in that segment.

On Cloud Ship Simulator – instructor’s view

Delivering training that’s fit for the future

Looking ahead, FMTI will continue to review and improve how our training courses are developed and delivered and adopt the latest technology and innovation to improve how we do just that – including exploring the use of Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, and others. Some key initiatives in the pipeline include The Cadet & TME project, which is our effort to ensure that we continue producing best-in-class officers on board our managed vessels.

Despite an outlook plagued with uncertainty and without any clear sight of a return to ‘normal’ for our seafarers, we draw on our strength and success of FLEET and with full support from a management team who wholeheartedly believe in the value of what we do at FMTI. With their support, we have been able to build a world-class maritime training institute with an excellent faculty and which we can proudly say is at the forefront of digital learning and technology.