The skills required to become a successful seafarer are changing. Where once the industry may have prioritised candidates with hard skills – the ability to perform technical tasks – a growing number of employers want to recruit seafarers who can also demonstrate soft skills.
While hard skills are teachable and measurable – think reading, writing and mathematics – soft skills are often more difficult to quantify. These are the kind of attributes that make well-rounded employees and include the ability to listen to instructions, communicate with colleagues and be flexible.
Also important are cognitive skills, which relate to how the brain responds to and processes stimuli. These types of skills include information ordering and memorisation – essential attributes in maritime where seafarers are exposed to many complex operational systems on board.
But what is the reason for this shift towards hybrid skills – and why are non-technical skills now becoming increasingly important in the maritime sector?
Like so many other industries, shipping is becoming more and more reliant on technology and it continues to evolve. A growing number of onboard tasks that were once carried out manually are now automated, performed by computers or robotics, but technology will never replace a human’s ability to think, rationalise and act.
Due to the safety-critical nature of maritime operations, it is essential that seafarers possess good soft skills. This is borne out by research carried out by the University of Cardiff Seafarers International Research Centre, which found that soft skills – or rather a lack thereof – was often a contributing factor in a survey of almost 700 accidents. The study found, for example, that failure in communication was an immediate contributory cause in 15.3% of collisions, close quarter and contact accidents and 16.1% of groundings.
But is it actually possible to learn soft and cognitive skills when a person may not naturally have qualities such as strong leadership and interpersonal communication?
“Many people seem to think that these skills are fundamental to a person’s character and cannot be developed, but this isn’t the case at all,” said Maria Synnou, a clinical psychologist and product expert for Safebridge’s psychometric assessment platform, SafeMetrix.
“Soft skills are not hard wired into a personality and it is possible to learn how to be more assertive, to be more resilient or how to negotiate effectively. Cognitive skills require a different type of training since they are not generally amenable to typical training and instructions. They can be improved through the right kind of cognitive training, constant effort and targeting the mindset.”
With soft and cognitive skills expected to be in even higher demand as technology advances on board vessels and operators strive towards a reduction in accidents and incidents, Safebridge recognises that seafarers need additional support to progress in their careers. It has developed, in partnership with specialists in human resource development services, CRC HR Solutions Ltd, the first industry-specific solution for the targeted and continuous development of seafarers’ non-technical skills.
The solution – the Personal Development Package – comprises 13 soft skills and five cognitive skills training courses, each of which are broken down into 10-15 minute eLearning courses. Accredited by Class NK and The Nautical Institute, courses can be bought individually or as bundles, with
managers able to allocate courses to individual seafarers as and when required. Certificates of completion are issued at the end of each course.
Maria explained: “This has been created as a result of customer feedback on the SafeMetrix platform. Several customers said SafeMetrix was excellent in helping them to identify skills that seafarers needed to work on, but they were struggling to find a training solution that would help them to develop. We are confident the Personal Development Package will help to bridge that gap, supporting both seafarers and employers.”
Soft skills courses available in the package are:
- Co-ordination Training
- Decision-Making Training
- Perseverance Training
- Resilience Training
- Self-Control Training
- Flexibility Training
- Openness to Experience Training
- Achievement Striving Training
- Self-Sufficiency Training
- Dependability Training
- Social Skills Training (Social Conformity/ Confidence/ Sensitivity, Agreeableness)
- Negotiation Training
- Assertiveness Training
The cognitive skills courses are:
- Information Ordering Training
- Memorisation Training
- Problem Sensitivity Training
- Spatial Orientation Training
- Visualisation Training