By Captain Philip McCarter
Associate Dean, Marine, BCIT’s School of Transportation
In 2016, I had the opportunity to attend Posidonia in Athens, Greece, thanks to the support of the Vancouver International Maritime Centre (VIMC). Every two years, Posidonia takes the pulse of the global shipping industry and focuses on key issues for shipping. In conferences and seminars chaired by industry leaders, there is lively discussion and debate on issues, challenges and opportunities facing the industry. Technical presentations give the industry’s innovators the platform for their latest vessel designs, eco-ship technologies, communications, propulsion systems and other vital developments. In 2018, the trade show attracted 2,009 exhibiting companies and 23,500 visitors from 92 countries. Whilst at the 2016 conference, I was amazed by the number of Greek nautical training schools that had collaborated with universities and colleges, primarily in the U.K., to provide pathways for young seafarers to a diploma or an under-graduate degree.
Surely, in the maritime profession, the Standard for Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) Certificate of Competency (CoC) trumps an academic credential. Why would maritime training institutions seek out such partnerships?
An interesting article by Professor Michael Manual, published in 2017, highlights that a “global trend in maritime education and training (MET) is increasingly to link an essentially vocational education that provides specific and restricted outcomes [per STCW requirements] with more general or deeper academic components leading to an academic qualification.” (Manuel, M. Vocational and Academic Approaches to Maritime Education and Training (MET): Trends, Challenges and Opportunities. WMU J. Maritime Affairs (2017) 16: 473 – 483)
The rationale for this trend is arguably based on Maslow’s seminal work of 1943 on the hierarchy of needs and human motivation. An individual achieving higher motivational levels and self-actualization, as proposed by Maslow, should not be frustrated by educational systems or the restricted needs, albeit understandable, of external stakeholders.
Education is viewed by many as the vehicle to achieve these higher needs in order to develop, at the micro-level, an individual’s full potential, and have that person contribute to societal change for the better at the macro level.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) states:
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all, on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
Academia, the house of higher education, has evolved and continues to evolve from its origins of pontification to scholastic analysis of the natural world and human existence to the more modern university that combines intellectual pursuit with utilitarian applications. Universities are encroaching more and more into the applied realm due to fiscal forces. Universities are becoming more utilitarian in nature. They are repositories of state-of-the-art knowledge for traditional professions such as medicine or engineering and industry-related domains. Open education at the post-secondary institutional level is moving into the mainstream. Ivy League Universities are offering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s). Industry is interested in custom arrays of certified competencies in lieu of broad credentials. They are also calling for, as are students, direct participation in the education process. Just-in-time education (custom curriculum), driven by technological change, is becoming an expectation for academic institutions to provide for in a variety of studies, not just for computer sciences. Clearly, education, as the means itself, is changing. Nevertheless, the end game for the individual remains the same — Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Seafaring, as a profession, is an educational endeavor too. No different from medicine or engineering.
As evidenced at Posidonia, Greek seafaring schools are onboard with this philosophy. What about Canada? Currently, the only post-secondary institutions that offer degree options for seafarers are the Marine Institute (MI) of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Coast Guard College (CCGG). At the MI, all of the courses offered at the Bachelor of Maritime Studies level are online to broaden the applicant’s knowledge base. CCGC offers a degree through the University College of Cape Breton. MI, going higher up the academic ladder, also provides a pathway for seafarers to achieve a Master’s degree and most recently, a PhD. At BCIT, upon successful completion of its nautical or marine engineering programs, the graduate receives a diploma as the academic credential. BCIT’s marine campus is presently undertaking program reviews that may result in changes to its programs providing more academic options for Canadian or international seafarers here on the West Coast, either at the marine campus or online.
There are clearly academic options available in Canada. Canadian seafarers should also consider broadening their horizon for further education. Interestingly, and from personal experience, Universities and Colleges in Europe view the certificate of competency in a different light than North-American post-secondary institutions. There, CoCs are recognized for their blend of academic and professional experience. The CoC counts as credit towards an academic credential and, depending on the CoC, the higher the number of credits. Opportunities there are endless.
Albeit late in my career voyage, I have chosen to embark on a PhD that has taken me to the World Maritime University in Malmo, Sweden. This institution has very close links to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the United Nations (UN) as a whole. WMU is very heavily involved in the maritime sector and provides world-class research and academic studies at the higher levels. Supported by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), it has just recently released a comprehensive study entitled ‘Transport 2040: Automation, Technology, Employment — The Future of Work’ (available at https://commons.wmu.se/lib_reports/58/). In this report, the importance of an individual’s ‘flexibility’ was highlighted in a rapidly changing workplace. Whilst at the WMU I observed 150 students from 60 different countries taking Master’s degrees — truly an international experience that reflects the very essence of the maritime industry. The students were from a variety of maritime backgrounds ranging from a VLCC tanker Master, a Superintendent and a government official to a ship’s agent and freight forwarder. There is energy, motivation and clear evidence that at WMU, some maritime professionals are striving to attain Maslow’s higher needs. Even the award-winning aspirational architecture of WMU suggests the old way of education evolving to a new and modern approach. Daily, world experts are video-conferenced into its lecture hall to provide a dynamic learning environment. Students are expected to take charge of their learning with faculty as facilitators and mentors. Literature indicates that this is the best way to learn.
Unfortunately, training of seafarers does not necessarily follow this philosophy. Professor Manuel also states: “The global scene has been characterized by quite diverse opinions of what should now be considered optimal seafarer education.” Currently, STCW’s competency-based framework and standardization lead to developing curriculum through IMO’s model courses in order to provide guidance on how to achieve the prescribed competence. The model courses also provide the basis for inter-State comparisons. However, IMO is shifting philosophically away from prescriptive regulations to a more ‘goal-based’ approach. MET may too have to undergo this transformation in order to provide a seafarer with the best way to learn — not just through rote memorization that is lecture-driven. This is at the base of Bloom’s taxonomy, which is a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity. The three lists cover the learning objectives in cognitive, affective and sensory domains. The current curriculum structure of MET devalues its academic value.
With this in mind, should a CoC be considered as an academic credential when applying to a post-secondary institution?
This question is complex. For North America, the answer appears to be at first instance and for the most part, no. One of the first hurdles that a CoC has to overcome in order to be viewed as an academic credential is that the issuer of a CoC is the Flag State and NOT an educational institution. Through this lens, a maritime CoC could be construed as nothing more than a ‘licence’ to drive a vessel — no matter the size. Interestingly, the aviation and vehicle sectors use the term ‘licence’ rather than a CoC.
The term ‘certificate’ does however refer to an academic credential, albeit considered/perceived as a low entry-level one. ‘Certificates’ of completion could be issued after a short course lasting only a few days. The term ‘competency’ embodies completing a task, repeatedly and accurately. However, competency varies widely depending on the time and place. Currently, STCW provides for a five-year re-validation period. It is possible for an officer of the watch who has been unemployed for three years to still have a valid CoC and, depending on market conditions, be hired back to work on a vessel. It is only sea-time, experiential rather than study, which a seafarer requires in order to renew his/her CoC. On a liner route, experiences could be so routine that it may lead to complacency and vigilance challenges. In academia, a degree does not have to be renewed. The credential suggests that the graduate embraces the philosophy of life-long learning.
Another layer that detracts from a CoC being considered as an academic credential is the issuance by the Flag State of Certificates of Proficiency (CoP) or endorsements for vessels such as tankers. Personnel in this sector tend to specialize so their associated CoC becomes more limited. Any downturn in the oil and gas industry will restrict their ability to enter, for example, the container trade: And vice versa.
Finally, the CoC is not part of academic parlance. The Marine Personnel Regulations section 100 lists 57 different CoCs and 19 endorsements that Transport Canada (TC) can issue. The challenge for a post-secondary institution is to evaluate the TC syllabus associated with the CoC and/or endorsement and transpose it onto an academic credit matrix. This is a very time-consuming and complex process. Most courses for mariners contain learning outcomes that are at the lowest level of Bloom’s taxonomy. This hinders the CoC being considered equivalent to higher-level post-secondary courses that are necessary in order to be granted a degree. Credits that are granted by the institution would therefore be minimal. Furthermore, academia must also break out of the traditional view of a bias that mariners are, for the most part, vocationally educated and hence, lack broader critical-thinking skills. Diplomas, Degrees, PhD’s and Post-Doctoral Fellows, to name a few, connote structure, a course of studies, a rounding of the individual and exposure to a wider experience. An academic credential attests to the ability of the graduate ‘to learn’ — not just to be a master of, or to be competent in, a particular job or task.
In trying to attract young entrants into a maritime career as either a deck or marine engineering officer, schools and industry are aware that many seafaring graduates will not be working on board a vessel after 10 years. Millennials and younger generations are not noted for staying power with a company, opting instead for life experiences and different challenges. A passage plan contains the same elements so after a while even this procedure loses its luster. The honeymoon period of a new ship, new people, different ports and new trading routes in today’s maritime operations is short.
From industry’s perspective, the CoC is critical for a vessel to sail. In Canada, this requirement is linked to the vessel’s safe manning document. There can be little doubt that a crewing or manning office at the career desk first asks what CoC does the potential new recruit hold.
While at a physiotherapy office the other day, I noticed on the wall a framed Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology and a Master’s Degree entitled with a similar subject matter from well-respected Universities. They indicate to me, with a high degree of confidence, that the person stretching my shoulder into painful postures is not a torture specialist but a person who has received a bona-fide course of studies on human kinetics and how to remedy aches and pains due to aging. Contrast this to a seafarer working his/her way up the ‘hawsepipe’ who can either stitch together block-approved courses from a variety of TC-recognized institutions or challenge the appropriate exams at a Transport Canada regional office. Either way, the seafarer could eventually obtain a certificate of competency that is treated the same by industry.
To the seafarer at the career desk, it is nice to have, in addition to a certificate of competency, an ace to play should there be a downturn in the industry or event abruptly changing the planned life course. Any academic credential, no matter how lowly it is perceived, is that ace. As navigators and marine engineers, contingency plans are an integral part of the profession’s DNA. Flexibility is key in the future world of work. Companies will come and go. To re-frame Nelson Mandela’s iconic statement into the second person — ‘You are the Master of your fate: You are the Captain of your soul.’
Captain Philip McCarter is the Associate Dean, Marine, BCIT School of Transportation and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.