This month we spoke to Damian Crowley, Managing Director of MARITAS (Maritime Training and Assessment Services) LTD, Chair of the National Workboat Association’s Training Group and a Fellow of the Nautical Institute. Recently celebrating his 43rd anniversary of joining the marine industry and with over 27 years of experience in training and assessment, Damian discusses the changes he is seeing across the maritime industry and the technology investments in Seafarer training and assessment that the future holds.
You’ve held a number of roles in the industry throughout your career, from Head of School at Blackpool & The Fylde College, to External Verifier for the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA). What does your role as Chair of the NWA’s Training Group involve?
The Training Group endeavours to ensure issues tackled are specific to NWA members and applies to relevant training frameworks. For example, regarding the Workboat Crewmember Apprenticeship Standard, we support members by formulating apprenticeship modules and a training record book. Currently, the big thing is dealing with end point assessments as part of the apprenticeship.
As chair, I steer the meetings through the agenda, ensuring we reach goals and make progress. I also get involved with the day to day work of the Group; tackling operational issues, developing training books (writing them, not just discussing them!) and make recommendations about changes to training material where necessary. I work closely with Mark Ranson, Secretary of the NWA, who deals with the operational side of the Training Group.
What about your own training? Do you have a training course which had stood out to you as your favourite?
Becoming a Master Mariner was a hugely proud moment for me. Getting my certificate of education was most enlightening. Really, it was the first time in my education I’d gone beyond training for specific scenarios. Before then, all the exams I’d undertaken had been geared to specific outcomes, with clear right and wrong answers. For the Certificate in Education, I was required to offer my own thoughts and consider my actions at work. It was the first opportunity throughout my education to really reflect on what I was doing. I found that really empowering. That’s the difference between education and training: training addresses specific practical competencies whilst education teaches you more about the approach to situations and implementing your own expertise.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the market over your last 27 years in training and assessment for the maritime industry?
There has been a move towards assessment and examination being completed by the training provider as opposed to Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). This has changed the way training works: originally, you’d undergo training and then be sent off for examination at the MCA. Now, all the emphasis is on training provider as the assessment is done in house.
What is the biggest challenge introduced by this change?
It makes you both a poacher and a game keeper: in other words, you’re completing two very different roles! It also adds to your administrative tasks and the quality control systems in place.
How do you think the Maritime training landscape is changing in the UK?
Employers now have an ability to influence the contents and form of training, making it fit for purpose and seafaring. This ties in with the NWA Training Group’s work: influencers are having an impact on the contents of training, right down to the unit modules. It is changing far more rapidly now than it has done in decades.
What do you think is driving this rapid change?
The advent of electronic navigation systems has had a significant impact on training. Whilst electronic chart systems (ECS) are well entrenched, there have recently been further developments in efficiency and capacity using these types of systems. Because of this, requirements have changed completely.
At the moment, we’re working with a centuries-old approach. There is a need to move away from technical skills to the management of information: that’s what seafarers in the wheelhouses and engine rooms need to be learning. This fundamental shift in how we train people ties in with a wider attitude change in maritime sector. We need to have more emphasis on the human element and soft skills in our work.
What do you believe is the most important ‘soft skill’ for Seafarers to be aware of and put into practice?
The ability to understand situations on a team level, not just know how to operate a vessel or deal with a change in weather out at sea, but also be able to understand how your team mates work and how to respond best to them in high pressure situations. Sharing a mental model within teams is really beneficial.
In what ways would you say the training model at Maritas Ltd is different from the ‘traditional college model’ and what makes it unique?
We don’t have a physical centre, so we take training to where the customers are. At the moment, we’re in Scotland, delivering in Greenock near Glasgow.
It depends on the course, but another key differentiator is that we have a blended scheme meaning you can carry out training at your own pace in your own space. Mixed up with this, we have face to face tuition. There’s a good amount of balance; it allows trainees to be independent and work whilst onboard or from the office, rather than having to be in a class room the whole time.
This method suits employers as well: there are lower cost involved with a flexible, blended scheme and they don’t lose their team members for long periods of time, as they can work along-side study and aren’t stuck to a timetable. On top of this, the flexibility means that we can work round weather changes and employers’ moving timetables which can alter due to the nature of the sector.
Where is the furthest you’ve travelled to conduct training?
Usually we’re based between Lancaster and Kendal. The furthest North we’ve gone has been Orkney, the furthest South, Sardinia. Personally, I’ve delivered training in Boston, Panama, Australia…
…And where has been your favorite place?
Silverdale where I live! I also liked Vancouver it has a lovely feel to it, plenty of space and great people.
What sort of investment do you think Maritas Ltd will be looking at in the future?
We’d be looking to invest more in our mobile navigation simulators. It’s not the answer to all training issues, but stimulators do provide an opportunity to develop situational awareness. New stimulators have software programs complete with visuals and real hydrostatic data, just as in a real electronic navigation system.
How much are these simulators used in training?
In terms of percentage of the Master Mariner program, very little actually, and this might be something to address in the future. It could be worth increasing the use of simulators on training programs throughout the sector. In fact, there is more technology available overall: the marine industry is likely to incorporate this more and may even utilize virtual reality equipment in the future.
What has been your highlight of working for Maritas Ltd?
When we first achieved approval as a training provider and became SQA certified in our own right.
The approval process took several months to complete but the years of experience and qualifications we have certainly helped with the achievement.
And finally, what do you most value about your NWA membership?
Definitely the network of people you build and the exposure you get across the sector. The opportunities to meet other professionals in the market are really good.
To find out more, please visit the Maritas website