Crew Empowerment

INSIGHTS - 11/11/2019

Empowered crew propel shipping forward

Looking after the crew means putting at their disposal the best available technology and training tools to ensure safety and efficiency at sea, protecting them when they need support from the shore, and continuously addressing their HR needs and career aspirations.

“We are nothing without our crew and our staff”, says Frank Coles, Wallem Group CEO. “They are the glue that creates the brand, and so providing a quality workplace encourages quality and loyal people.”

To empower its crew, which today includes a pool of 7,000 seafarers worldwide, Wallem has taken a holistic approach to develop a framework for training, talent development, welfare and diversity.

People power

As onboard equipment becomes more complex, troubleshooting and even maintenance will increasingly call for interaction with shore-based colleagues. The emphasis in training is therefore shifting towards soft skills, such as teamwork, leadership and communication rather than focusing purely on the mechanics of a skill.

Wallem seafarers undergo regular training to internal competency standards that stand well above mandatory minimums, beginning with instruction on core safety, environmental and technical requirements for vessel operation.

Wallem has eight training centres in crewing hubs worldwide and has recently invested US$ 1M to rebuild its training centre in Manila. In addition, the training centre in India will soon move into one custom-designed building, moving three sites into one, including installation of brand-new state-of-the-art simulators.

The training centres provide the crew with an immersive environment to hone existing skills and acquire new ones. Training is delivered using the latest simulators, in interactive classroom sessions led by experienced instructors, and online computer-based training.

At the foundation is a library of 500 courses covering core competencies, topics particular to specific vessel types and trades, and owner-specific requirements. This library is continually expanding as new training needs arise, reflecting regulatory, technological and commercial developments.

IMO’s global sulphur cap is a typical example. Like many others, Wallem manages some ships that feature exhaust gas scrubbers and others that will switch to lower sulphur fuels to comply. Figuring out the impacts on engine performance and fuel consistency has been a key step in creating a training package to prepare those working onboard, according to Fared Khan, Marine Director, Wallem Group.

“While commercial discussions and technical debates are important, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that ultimately crew will be the ones expected to use these systems and deal with new fuels,” he says.

It is a particular example which makes plain the reliance of successful vessel management on crews, but it is also one showing how each element of crew training, operations, communications – and indeed wellbeing – need to be aligned and seen in a wider context. For example, Fared Khan says. Wallem’s training is also designed to instil an appreciation of commercial considerations, helping crews to see their work within the bigger picture and realise how their actions and behaviours make a difference. Other courses are formulated to take account of relevant internal policies of different owners, which can vary significantly.

Courses draw on real-life scenarios and incidents, making them more relatable and improving the absorption of concepts and procedures. This approach provides greater context for learners and more opportunities for instilling soft skills.

As Frank Coles puts it: “You cannot deliver technical services that meet multiple industry objectives on efficiency, safety and the environment based on wishful thinking. You need a competent, well-trained crew.”


Supportive environment

However, training is only one side of the coin. Looking after crew by providing a working environment where they feel respected, valued and supported engenders loyalty, creating a culture based on taking pride in quality and safety.

This realisation prompted Wallem to establish a Wellness Management System (WMS) focused on crew physical and mental wellbeing. Since its inception in 2015, the system has expanded to tackle issues such as bullying and harassment, cyber-wellness and gender. Feedback from the company’s workforce has been instrumental in determining the direction of this evolution.

When the system was initially created with the guidance of a clinical psychologist with maritime expertise, it emphasised the importance of sleep, exercise, a balanced diet and mindfulness in boosting resilience to stress and as first step coping mechanisms for seafarers struggling with mental health issues. These topics feature prominently in Wallem’s pre-joining safety briefings and are continually reinforced through scheduled workshops.

Having dedicated communication channels for wellness issues means Wallem’s shore staff can take positive action to address issues much sooner than was previously possible. Intervening in problems early has proved highly effective in preventing escalation, resulting in a marked reduction in the number of conflicts reported onboard.

Staff have praised the programme for giving them ways to deal with fatigue and control emotions in stressful situations, as well as the techniques it offers for helping and supporting colleagues under strain. One AB commended the programme for imparting listening skills, which encourage ‘mutual honesty and respect to your crew mates’.

On board with diversity

Empowering seafarers and the colleagues who support them from shore is critical to upholding Wallem’s reputation as a provider of world-class services. But technology alone cannot address broader issues affecting the lives of people working at sea.

Diversity in an organisation as a whole is essential because when managed well, it encourages growth; allows for the incorporation of more ideas and innovation; allows for tapping into a wider talent pool and reduces the vulnerability that comes with only having one form of thought.

Diversity is linked to wellness as the culture onboard a vessel can drastically affect a seafarer’s wellbeing. Fostering a positive and supportive culture at sea mitigates risks and builds overall productivity which echoes Wallem’s value of ‘supporting quality through safety’

“Wallem is committed to promoting gender diversity and creating supportive and respectful environments both onshore and onboard Wallem-managed ships that allow everyone to flourish”, says Frank Coles. “Wallem remains one of the biggest employers of women seafarers. As crew shortages become more acute, it is ridiculous to disregard half the pool of possible candidates based on gender.”

And, while addressing the entire workforce using a holistic approach that takes in training, wellbeing and diversity, Wallem has also been able to attain a seafarers retention rate of 88 per cent – one of the highest across the entire shipping industry.

“At Wallem, we cherish the technical expertise, the ingenuity, and, above all, the dedication of the skilled men and women who are pivotal in our success,“ says Frank Coles.

Today the shipping industry is being pushed into uncharted waters by building regulatory momentum to tackle greenhouse gases and the exciting possibilities opened up by digitalisation. While no one quite knows exactly what technological solutions will emerge, we can be certain about is that human talent in will not only remain relevant to safe and efficient fleet operation but become more important than ever.

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