Ship Training Tips: Maritime Skills: Who Trains?

Assessment is a particular interest of mine, and it should be at or near the top of the list for anyone involved in maritime training. Why? Two reasons. First, because it is arguably more important than the training itself. And second, because in my experience, most training administrators give 95% of their attention to training and only 5% to assessment. This means that the assessment is often poorly done. So let’s turn our attention to some essential advice for evaluation in maritime training.

This article presents a simple but essential assessment tip to improve the assessment of your officers’ and crew’s skills: a trainee should be trained and assessed by different people. In other words, we should never allow a trainee’s trainer to be the same person as their assessor. Let’s discuss why this is important.
It is the job of the trainer to ensure that a candidate acquires all the skills and knowledge required for the job at hand.

The evaluator has a different job – to ensure that no candidate is given a task for which they are unprepared. Although these roles are inherently designed to achieve a common goal, in some ways they have (and should have) conflicting interests. The trainer is there to support, instruct and provide resources. Therefore, the trainer must be a “safe” and supportive learning resource for the candidate, regardless of ability. The candidate should feel no judgment from the trainer when asking questions or practicing skills. On the other hand, the role of the evaluator is not to support the trainee, but to evaluate the trainee. The evaluator has a duty to determine if the trainee has the knowledge and skills required to work effectively and safely, because lives and the performance of the fleet depend on it.

It may be useful to think of the trainer as a producer and the evaluator as a consumer. It is the trainer’s job to produce qualified candidates. It is the evaluator’s job to critically assess the suitability of these candidates for consumption. If the producer and the consumer are the same person, then we have conflicts that may create bad results. It is easy to find examples.

First, if the trainer knows the exact nature of the assessment that is to follow, human nature will lead him to ‘practice the test’ as it will reflect back on the trainer if the candidate performs well on the assessment. The problem, however, is that ratings can never be complete. Therefore, trainees should always assume that *everything* will be tested, even if it never is. By separating the trainer and assessor (and keeping knowledge of specific assessment details from the trainer), we provide a strong incentive for comprehensive training not only for the trainee, but also for the trainer.

Second, if the evaluator is also the person who delivered the training, then he is in a conflicting position because the candidate’s failure reflects poorly on his ability as a trainer. Likewise, the relationship they establish with a candidate during a training course can cause them to be less objective when it comes to evaluation. This is important in the marine industry where many competency-based assessments can be subjective in nature.

And third, if the trainer and assessor are the same person, there is no clear line between training and assessment. There should be. If this is not the case, the candidate will feel (correctly) that he is being evaluated during the training. This can make them reluctant to ask important questions, ask for clarification, or ask for more practice time lest it reveal their lack of knowledge or ability. This greatly impairs the effectiveness of the training period.

The solution is therefore simple. For a particular candidate, make sure that their trainer and assessor are two different people and that each understands their role. Not only does this solve the issues raised above, but it also adds an element of redundancy ensuring that no single point of failure will result in the authorization of an unqualified candidate. It is simply a good practice, but rarely practiced.

There’s a lot more to say about this critically important assessment topic, and we’ll cover it again in future editions of Training Tips for Ships. Until then, thank you for reading and surfing safely!