Soft Skill Panel, Crew Welfare Week: Press Release by Safety4Sea

Across all industries, the importance of soft skills is acknowledged and even their predominance over technical skills. Experiences and technical skills of course remain important but what is the point if the seafarer has not developed situational awareness, decision making, leadership, teamwork and communication?

Press Release by Safety4Sea

Soft Skills Panel

Across all industries, the importance of soft skills is acknowledged and even their predominance over technical skills. Experiences and technical skills of course remain important but what is the point if the seafarer has not developed situational awareness, decision making, leadership, teamwork and communication?

The panel, moderated by Dr. Luiza Shahbazyan, Founder, The Pivot Company, focused on the benefits of investing in soft skills development. The following experts participated: Ben Bailey, Director of Advocacy and Regional Engagement, The Mission to Seafarers; Dimitris Fokas, Training Manager, Angelicoussis Shipping Group Limited; Capt. Dimitris Kalosakas, Group Training Director/Senior Instructor, Elvictor Group; Panagiotis Kourkoumelis, Training and Development Manager, Kyklades Maritime Corporation; Capt. VS Parani, HSSEQ Manager, Tufton Asset Management Ltd and; Bill Truelove, Managing Director, CSMART Training Center.

We are moving in the right direction towards soft skills but we have a lot of work to do, panel experts agreed. Seafarers have recognized the need to adapt to the demanding working environment onboard which requires to collaborate with multinational groups; this is a great challenge to them so they tend to show more concern about effective communication, teamwork, collaboration and other soft skills. Also, psychological safety, continuous learning and resilience are among the key soft skills to focus on. In general, there is a demand for a new types of skills. Therefore we need to refresh the soft skills that are already in place; this is part of the culture journey. Especially the pandemic highlighted the importance of resilience for both crew onboard and their families. In order to address any gaps with regards to soft skills, there is need of an analysis on a company level as there is not a solution that fits to all. Also, a gap exists in seafarers’ families training , if we are able to train them better and equip them with strategies and mechanisms, seafarers will have better focus on their works. What is more, the positive thinking came to surface; seafarers could now believe that the best things are going to happen, they are not victims, but they have everyone’s support.

1. Why soft skills matter in the maritime workplace, and which skills do you consider key?

No one can predict what the shipping industry will be like 15 years from now. If allowed me to rephrase a well-known prediction for factories by Warren Bennis, the future vessel would have only two crew, a seafarer and a dog. The seafarer skills will be there to feed the dog, and the dog will be there to keep the seafarer from touching any equipment of the vessel.

But there is something that has remained relatively constant in several thousand years, the essential skills that lie at the heart of effective human relationships. Dignity, trust, and honesty in relationships have always been among the goals of human beings.

Seafarers need to manage their own lives, careers, foster productivity, safety, and relationships with others on the vessel. In reality, these skills are applicable in most areas of our life, with families, friends, and while we are on board.

For example, our seafarers have more knowledge but less judgment; they became more experts but more problems. We get too angry too quickly; we plan more but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush but not to wait, and we have more kinds of food but less nutrition.

So as a Captain, the skills I would like my crew to have is safety culture, being courteous, honest, and reliable. They should know how to write a precise email, pick up on new technologies, adjust to changes, and follow the rules and procedures. They should have a friendly personality, be easygoing, and optimistic, regardless of the situation. Self-supervising, punctuality, reporting on duties on time, good personal appearance, staying on the job until it is finished, willingness to work second and third shifts, caring about seeing the vessel and the company succeed, and good communication skills with auditors, superintends, charterers, agents.

2. Over a year now into the COVID-19 pandemic and the crew change crisis, is there a demand for new types of skills?

I can say that came more to surface the importance of the skill of positive thinking. It is the ultimate form of realism because it’s the belief that seafarers have the power to change their reality and alter their future. It is the belief that they aren’t victims of circumstances, and there are good things ahead. So, the best is going to happen, not the worst. Every situation that we encounter in life is open to our interpretations.

A seafarer with a positive attitude tends to interpret any condition as good than bad, not because it is objectively one or the other, but because he recognizes that it’s within his power to choose and make him feels better.

Thus, if they want to live longer, be happy, healthy, and prosperous seafarers, all they have to do is to master the skill of positive thinking, especially under this unforeseen pandemic.

3. Do you think there is soft skills gap in the maritime industry, and what are the implications?

In reality, together with the shortage of seafarers in general, we face a lack of professional skills and experience.

When we consider that the soft skills seem a luxurious process and play the least essential role in the selection criteria. Therefore, we will be delighted to find a healthy 45 years old engineer with specific years of experience in a particular engine type, excellent technical and maintenance skills, speaking perfect English, and so on, many other technical criteria along with outstanding leadership, social, and communication skills.

The main issue here is that we start realizing the importance of soft skills during the 6 or 8 months of the seafarer’s contract.

During this period, where seafarers are on board, the lack of different soft skills comes to the surface. We face issues with the inappropriate handling of third parties or inspectors, safety issues, incidents due to miscommunication or conflicts between the crew, the inappropriateness of following instructions and procedures, and many other problems related to the gaps in soft skills.

This is why we should push ourselves ashore to prioritize the possession of soft skills during our recruitment process.

4. How can companies help their crews develop further their soft skills?

As you may know, Elvictor Group is a ship and crew management company with more than 3,000 thousand seafarers onboard.

We realize every day the lack of soft skills. You may know that a seafarer’s job is unique regarding the environment and social isolation from a young age.

So, we are trying to explain to them the importance of soft skills on board; we help them understand that they will improve their careers and learn soft skills.

We give them simple examples of soft skills from real-life lessons learned cases onboard our vessels and ask them to consider how these skills could impact their career.

We hope that this will open their minds and allow them to accept soft skills training.

On the other hand, seafarers won’t know how to improve or develop soft skills until they know which soft skills need improvement. So, we need to figure out which soft skills development training each seafarer needs most.

Therefore, we pay much attention to appraisals and feedback received from Superintendents and Masters to identify gaps.

During our everyday interaction with seafarers, we realized that sometimes all it takes is a little guidance to understand that they aren’t as friendly, communicative, or optimistic as they could be.

Therefore, in cooperation with our ship owners, we organize distance seminars at our Qualship training center in Georgia, without the need to visit the training center’s physical location, making soft skills fun and engaging.

I can say that soft skills development is a prolonged process because it requires a change of personality and habit rather than a change of knowledge.

So, we focused on rewarding and not punishment or blame culture system to guide them on the right path, and we hope that after some time, they should be well on their way towards possessing a set of powerful soft skills.

5. What is the role of the seafarers in developing their soft skills?

Developing soft skills like resilience and emotional intelligence is a great way to make your crew performing the best. But you can’t force seafarers to be self-aware or to engage in training.

Despite that 85% of seafarer’s career success is due to soft skills, they get little respect. As I said before, “Soft Skills” correlates with “Life Skills,” which characterize relationships with other seafarers and are tied to each one’s personalities rather than any formal training, and are thus considered more challenging to develop than any technical or professional skills.

So how to teach optimism, integrity, a sense of humor, and self-esteemed. Or how easy it is to develop leadership, empathy, communication, and sociability to an officer 35 or 50 years old. Life skills-based education is more appropriate to young cadets during their studies in Academies.

Of course, we have in place, during the recruitment process, different tools for measuring decision-making abilities or working under pressure and other soft skills. Still, in most cases, such skills are thoroughly evaluated during and after the completion of seafarers’ contracts.

As I usually say and explain to them, that your technical and professional knowledge, your hard skills will get you the employment you wish and your first contract, but you need to possess the soft skills to keep your job and to be re-hirable and have a successful career.

6. Have you identified any obstacles to developing soft skills and how can we address them?

The obstacles for seafarers come from the vessel’s nature and the life at sea far from families and friends.

The demanding environment makes them focus on acquiring technical and professional skills and knowledge, focusing on the job, and maintaining the vessel, making them feel that other skills are nice to have but not so important at sea.

Obstacles come from pressure from all around the vessel’s key players, the uncertainty of the employment. For example, how they can express empathy when they face the fear of unemployment.

For them, the seaworthiness of the vessel and the successful completion of the contract free of accidents, and the excellent sea service history are the highest priority.

So, what we should do as employers, is that we should create a trust relationship and explain and convince them that the acquisition of soft skills will assist them in accomplishing their targets.

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