As the first deadline approaches for the mandatory carriage of ECDIS, there has been growing interest in the potential of computer-based training (CBT) to plug the apparent supply/demand gap for classroom training places.
CBT, it has been suggested is not just a logical choice but effectively, the industry’s best hope of meeting training demand as the mandate progresses. At first sight, the argument for CBT appears strong and given the resources needed to develop the product required, providers tend to be companies with a long-term view.
But is CBT really a panacea for the ECDIS training squeeze? Its rise to prominence seems to raise as many questions as answers. We caught up with ECDIS expert and consultant Paul Hailwood on the sidelines of Admiralty’s Digital Transition workshop at Asia Pacific Maritime 2012 in Singapore for his view.
Hailwood agrees the concept of CBT is good, with little doubt that undertaking training onboard has value. But he says owners and operators have to satisfy themselves on a number of issues before they make the move.
“The big questions are acceptance and quality. A number of flag states, the UK MCA for example, simply do not accept CBT on their ships or in a port state capacity. Others do accept it for generic training but with caveats, such as requiring additional work onboard on passage planning for example,” he explains. “Some hardware providers can bundle type specific with generic provided there are some days ashore on a simulator, so there are options out there for sure.”
Owners need to be aware of the language that training providers use and understand the difference between recognition, acceptance and approval by a flag state. It should not be hard to find out the status of any given package but owners should also check that third parties claiming approval from hardware manufacturers are doing so with the manufacturer’s knowledge.
Such issues are largely procedural but he says the quality question is probably the greater concern.
“Say you want to put CBT on your ship where you have the master and a mate and perhaps a couple of watch officers. In addition to their other duties they have to find an hour each day in a four month contract to devote to this, and possibly longer. One CBT product I completed took me 17 hours even though I already knew most of the answers. For a ship on short voyages that doesn’t seem very practical,” he adds.
For another client, he decided to click random answers rather than always choosing the ones he knew to be correct. And the result? He still passed, with a score of 67%. The shipping company was suitably embarrassed but the implication is obvious – it could take longer and be more problematic to train on CBT than to do so in a classroom.
“It’s a case of sitting down and saying how long is it going to take me to do this? Where can we find the 17 hours or more that we need? The generic ECDIS operator’s course is 40 hours with a maximum of 12 people, one lecturer and no distractions. I don’t understand how you can have the same quality of training in less than 40 hours onboard a ship while you’re working at the same time,” he adds.
Despite these reservations, Hailwood says CBT will continue to grow in importance but more likely as an online aid when using the equipment. Some manufacturers are already providing on screen help and pages from the manual against particular commands and he expects to see non-mandatory courses, such as Admiralty’s ENC course, delivered this way.
He points out too that the training issue will begin to disappear over time as a new generation of officers emerges whose basic training has already satisfied the IMO 1.27 course requirement. But he is equally clear that CBT should be treated as a refresher tool, something which enhances the implementation of training rather than supersedes it.
“The future has to be about CBT but will it replace generic training? No. It is just one source of information, not the definitive one. When I finish training sessions I say to people this could be a waste of time unless you implement it onboard. If you think you know ECDIS just because you’ve got generic training, you’ve lost the plot.”
Admiralty recently launched a global training initiative to highlight the need for comprehensive ECDIS training. This worldwide promotion offers 100 bridge officers the chance to win a place on a generic ECDIS training course. For more information on the training promotion and to register for your chance to win ECDIS training, please visit https://admiraltytraining.admiralty.co.uk/.
By Neville Smith