Published on 07 Jul 2021

BSM prioritizes in online training & safety courses to maintain the competence of its seafarers

With the aim to secure the normal operation of safety, onboard vessels Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement has exploited the opportunities that have arisen by the maritime industry’s shift to virtual training and used an array of available electronic tools including BSM’s seafarer portal APP.

In the interview that follows, Theophanis Theophanous, Managing Director at Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (Greece), describes the company’s investments in seafarers’ training programs especially during the challenging period of the pandemic and explains BSM values and principles of its seafarers training programs.

1) Describe your organization’s initiatives to maintain the quality of your studies and improve the overall level of communication during these very difficult pandemic times.

The global emergence of COVID-19 early last year quickly and substantially affected normal operations across Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) and resulted in the temporary closure of our Maritime Training Centres (MTCs) located in Cyprus, China, India, and the Philippines. This presented a serious challenge in an industry that relies heavily on training and development to ensure operational safety on board vessels and to maintain competence of our seafarers. Addressing the challenge meant assessing our capabilities in effectively delivering a remote learning experience to seafarers as well as setting realistic expectations and achievable goals.

With the goal of offering the training courses whilst maintaining the program’s high quality amidst a pandemic, we prioritized safety-based courses as we switched to online training. We acted swiftly to resolve the challenges in distance learning because it is a business imperative for BSM to facilitate training and development for employees to perform their responsibilities proficiently. We immediately worked on obtaining approval from the Cyprus government for the remote delivery of gas tanker-related courses following the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) Code, including the new and Basic and Advanced IGF courses. We also received approval for the remote delivery of the Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO) Management of Operations course.

The ongoing global health crisis has accelerated the maritime industry’s shift to virtual training and development, which we expect to continue post-COVID-19 due to its effectivity and cost efficiency. Our MTCs will likely resume to utilize online learning to ensure safety of employees and realize their learning goals at the same time.

We were also able to continue the professional development initiatives for shore-based personnel. Using the framework of continuous orbital learning, we were able to identify training needs, plan and schedule the necessary courses, track progress, and subsequently identify other training needs to repeat the learning process.

Communication was intensified substantially between departments and individual colleagues throughout the pandemic using an array of available electronic tools, including BSM’s own Seafarer Portal App. This allowed normal operations to proceed as smoothly as possible and for support to be offered to shore and sea-based employees.

2) Describe the directions and topics of organization’s educational programs in shipping.

For shore-based personnel, educational programs are organised to support specific career development plans that can be job-specific or industry-related. Alternatively, training programs for crew members are managed through a dedicated electronic competence management system to allow smooth transition of seafarers between ranks and fleets and to close any expertise gaps. BSM’s own Maritime Training Centres ensure the quality of these courses, which are audited externally and are ISO 9001-2015 accredited. The topics covered are the full range of STCW courses, deck and navigation, engineering and electrotechnical, liquid cargo petrochemical/gas, LPG & LNG, LNG-fuelled vessels, safety/environmental, catering related courses, and career progression.

3) What is the average age of your students and their professional objectives? 

There is no age restriction in one’s learning journey at BSM. Any employee, whether at sea or on shore, can access our vast array of training resources to achieve their personal professional objectives and those of the company.

Do you encourage your students to continuously expand their education/training horizon in shipping?

BSM actively promotes a philosophy for lifelong learning for both sea and shore-based employees to enhance on-the-job performance. Training requirements are analysed collaboratively based on job needs, present work environment and future career development between employees and their team leaders during performance appraisal. We have an internal electronic training platform where company and job-specific training can be accessed on demand, at the convenience of each employee’s schedule. For crew members, we have an electronic competence management system, with provision for video-based computer training, to track the learning progress and encourage further upskilling.

Aside from practical job training, employees can also submit applications for higher education courses and post graduate degrees and programmes that they are interested in. Additionally, there are specific developmental initiatives offered such as the High Potential (HiPo) and Management Development Track program. The HiPo course is geared towards developing high-performing employees who ‘live and breathe’ the BSM values and competencies, into becoming future leaders. The program utilizes an intense schedule of workshops, courses, work-based assignments, mentoring systems, coaching and assessments. On the other hand, the Management Development Track program is designed to form BSM role models from among a pool of skilled and competent professionals within the company. Program participants are carefully selected and nominated by management teams based on a set criteria.

4)  Do you aim at the development of your students’ soft skills (management ability & resilience in crisis situations etc) and the updating on new developments such as shipping IPOs and IMO GHG abatement targets?

Seafaring is, by nature, an extremely demanding and challenging profession that requires not just technical competences but also a unique set of skills that will influence one’s performance and determine success on the job. Recognizing the value of having the right behavioural and soft skills, BSM has identified them as key components of its leadership and management training programs for mariners. We also utilize the behaviour-based safety approach on board and ashore in promoting the overall safety of the workplace. Through the development of these non-technical skills in a targeted manner, we are able to reinforce our decision-making process when it comes to hiring and promotion and ultimately build a stronger and more resilient organization.

Likewise, we offer training programs in keeping with regulatory developments and trends within the maritime industry. For example, we now have more courses focused on crew training for LNG vessels given the increasing demand for this fast-growing natural energy source favoured by many ship operators. Similarly, we have developed a course that delves into the new sulphur cap requirements of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

5) How do you monitor/evaluate the performance of your students/ attendees?

BSM has established training matrixes that track and monitor competency levels, qualifications, and learning progress of students based on required skill sets of their current and desired roles. These matrixes serve as a framework for training officers and HR teams ashore in evaluating each employee and assisting them in their career progression. We utilize a wide range of evaluation methods depending on the type of training conducted, ranging from knowledge-based assessment tests and feedback sessions during and after each course to practical observation and issuance of a training completion certificate. Based on the evaluation statistics for 2020, BSM was able to deliver more training programs compared to 2019 and instructor utilisation rates were higher than ever. Feedback from the seafarers regarding delivery of online learning also received consistent excellent ratings.

6) Have you invested in advanced methods of teaching, learning and interactive lessons?

We anticipate that remote delivery of learning experience is a trend that will carry on in the foreseeable future. As we continue to provide BSM seafarers with their training and development needs through online tools and platforms, we are also looking into leveraging other innovative technologies that can take learning to a whole new level and further enhance our training readiness in times of crises like COVID-19. The use of virtual reality and augmented reality is revolutionizing the whole maritime industry, and its adoption for crew training and development purposes will make learning more immersive, engaging, and effective. More importantly, it will offer seafarers opportunities to practice dealing with highly complex real-life vessel situations in a safe manner.

During the ongoing pandemic, BSM successfully launched a new Liquid Cargo Simulator (LCS) facility in Cyprus designed and developed by BSM’s inhouse technical team using the GTT Training software to provide a bespoke and realistic learning experience on a wide range of LNG vessel types. The LCS ensures that we operate our managed LNG fleet with a pool of well-trained and competent crew members who meet the requirements of the STCW and SIGTTO.

BSM’s training and development initiatives cover shore-based employees as well. They receive their training online to expand their knowledge and gain new skill sets for productivity and career development. With both trainers and trainees having embraced this digital learning approach, we will continue our hard work in delivering learning programs remotely to reach a wider audience and making sure our courses remain interesting, practical, and up to date.

7) What is your organisation’s strategy for improving the quality of your programs and maintain educational excellence? 

BSM cultivates a culture of learning anchored on a strong commitment to continuous improvement and our corporate values. Being in the ship management industry, we rely heavily on our biggest asset – our employees – who ensure safe vessel operations and uphold our longstanding legacy as a trusted maritime business partner for our customers. Hence, we invest strongly in crew training and development to build and nurture a network of highly competent and qualified seafarers who live the BSM values in driving performance and achieving growth. Our crew members, including our shore personnel, are given access to continuous learning opportunities through our four wholly owned MTCs and 24 Crew Service Centres (CSCs) located strategically across the globe. The MTCs particularly ensure that our program offerings are fit for purpose and remain relevant based on evolving industry standards and requirements through periodic reviews. We also conduct assessments among our personnel to measure understanding and proficiency and evaluate whether desired learning outcomes are met. BSM is able to attract and retain the best talents with dedicated employee support, steady employment, and lifelong career opportunities.