Videotel: Don’t be complacent about competence


Competency today is no guarantee of competency tomorrow was the message from Videotel’s Dr Chris Haughton, speaking at yesterday’s Manning and Training Conference in Manila.

“Regrettably we too often conflate experience with expertise,” he said. “Competence isn’t static; it’s dynamic and ever-shifting. As the shelf life of our knowledge gets shorter and shorter this recognition becomes more important. People have to deal with the new, the difficult, the unknown and the unusual – it raises the intriguing question as to how we can devise training to deliver competence for something we don’t yet know about? The answer is of course that we can’t. What we can do is develop the person to be able to cope when new challenges occur.”

New thought processes need to be very much part of the competency debate, he explained, citing the example that when things are going according to plan, when events are normal and when performance is prescribed by operational standards people normally perform well. But, he asked, is this really competence? Or is it simply compliance with pre-set rules?

“Behaving habitually or by following a checklist is simply not enough to claim competence,” he added. “Seafarers’ lives are increasingly prescribed and controlled by audit and checklist, but habits and checklists lack the flexibility that true skill and competence require. We are increasing compliance at the expense of competence – which explains why we’re managing the mundane but not the unusual.”

So what is the answer? Good training is essential, but that alone is no measure of competence. On-the-job experience is crucial and can be even more effective when enhanced by properly constituted mentoring schemes, believes Dr Haughton. “The beauty of mentoring schemes is that they operate in the workplace so that the so-called ‘learning transfer’ from classroom to ship is helped considerably,” he concluded.  “This is real progress towards assuring competence.”