5. DIFFICULTIES AND SOLUTIONS
Petersen  put the training problem into perspective when commenting on implications for industry, flowing from the BIMCO 2000 manpower study. The demographics of the maritime industry have become tilted towards those of an advanced age (sea and shore) yet the failure to train and recruit in the 1980s and 1990s will have consequences for all in the early part of the 21st century. He continues to note that:
...the supply and demand of maritime labour is a very imprecise science. It is not machinery or computers, or equipment with a finite life that we are talking about but people! They are affected by social trends, by economic pressures ashore. They exercise free choices, to seek a sea career or to diversify into shore employment, to look for jobs in the shore-side maritime infrastructure or disappear altogether from the maritime workforce.
In itself, technology is not an answer to manpower shortages, but is a methodology to enhance knowledge and skills of personnel required to work within a growing technologically driven working environment. If the industry cannot solve the challenge of attracting school leavers to take up a sea going career, then all the technology in the world will not alleviate the problem and the predicted shortage of officers will become even worse in the future. However, making life onboard more interesting and less socially isolated through access to Internet based education, training, and leisure time activities is one of the best solutions. Access to simulation technology can play a major part in a reviving interest in sea-going careers.
The greatest danger lies in simulation technology being used for training and assessment purposes and tasks for which the simulator is clearly not suitable or capable. A second problem is a lack of instructor experience in designing, running and evaluating simulator programs and exercises where reliability and validity of training and assessment outcomes have become much more important. This can be overcome through the use of approved standardised exercises such as those developed by the MASSTER project .
Who will recognise simulation training conducted at sea or off-campus? How can maritime certifying authorities be persuaded to accept the judgement of shipmasters and officers, or a monitoring instructor ashore, that a trainee onboard is competent to perform certain simulator based tasks or functions? There is also the problem of persuading officers themselves to take on the role of assessor! In this regard, the potential of satellite communications to provide the links for the monitoring of personnel training activity at sea must not be overlooked, and for training institutions, company training managers and statutory authorities, the technology is already in place to permit such an approach. There is no reason why authorities cannot recognise and licence trainers and assessors to monitor, record and verify trainee performance from a distance.
Other issues that will need to be solved include reaching agreement with the copyright owner of the simulation software for its use through a Web site, control of access to the simulation program by users, availability of appropriate hardware and accessories (e.g. helm and engine control for shiphandling or manoeuvring training), type and cost of site licences, and setting of fees or charges for user access. Simulation software could be held on a secure Web server and users would gain access via password following course enrolment and payment of a fee. Peripheral controls could be leased from the centre for a set period, if not replicated on operational software windows.
The biggest challenge facing the industry in the future is the growing cyberspace learning environment. The ability to access data, information, MET courses, on-line resources and to communicate with people anywhere, anytime, as the Internet allows ashore, will soon be within unlimited reach of the ship at sea. In the near future, more broadband satellite links will also provide personnel on a ship with similar 'always on' high speed links, as their compatriots ashore enjoy today.
Internet technology will open up opportunities for simulation training in many aspects of ship operations. The opportunity will also be there for innovative approaches to be made with part task training simulators as off-campus training tools. The real drawback to quick progress is lack of such avenues of communication in many developing countries, and a lack of IT infrastructure in many MET institutions.
There is a strong case for providing systematic support and assistance to many of the smaller MET institutions, if they are to survive in a growing technically reliant MET world. The author  identified a clear appetite by MET institutions to develop programs around the new technology, but it was equally clear that the funds and expertise to do so were sadly lacking in many cases.
The advantage to the ship operator of having a better connected, better informed and better trained crew provides a powerful incentive to the industry to undertake some innovative approaches to onboard training needs in cooperation with training institutions and developers. At the same time, such action will provide the industry with an opportunity to overcome the isolation that modern life at sea imposes on crews.
Regarding the future use of simulation, there is perhaps but one answer for many of the smaller institutions, the pooling of their scarce simulation resources on a regional cooperative basis. Like the global alliances referred to previously, this could in future be achieved through the creation of a Web based simulation training centre. Access by users could thus be anywhere, anytime, whether at sea or ashore.
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