How one shipping company is reaping the benefits of adding new skills to its team via distance learning. By Andrew Deere

In October 2018, 11 students from Sonangol Shipping enrolled with the Maritime Training Academy (MTA) to complete courses in Technical Ship Management and Tanker Operations. Sonangol Shipping is committed to supporting its staffs’ professional development and upskilling employees to ensure the company has the talent and skills commensurate with working for a global shipping firm.

We spoke to Edmur Costa, Head of Technical Ship Superintendency Department at Sonangol Shipping, about the importance of maritime training to the company and the benefits of using distance learning course like those provided by MTA.

Investing in maritime training
Upskilling employees so that they can do their jobs more proficiently, and to future proof talent pipelines by promoting from within, is a strategy many shipping companies are investing in. Sonangol Shipping is no exception and views distance learning as an important part of its Learning & Development strategies. Edmur Costa says: “At Sonangol Shipping we see training as an investment. By increasing knowledge and skills we can ask more of our staff. Their technical output will be completed to a higher standard as they learn more from the distance learning course, which in turn will give staff greater job satisfaction and responsibility.

“While some companies may be concerned that upskilling staff could result in them taking their new skills elsewhere, this is not our experience. When employees are given the opportunity to learn new skills, or improve their existing ones, and they can use these skills to do their jobs better and further their careers with their current employer, job satisfaction and retention rates increase.”

Engaging staff with maritime training opportunities
L & D teams across all industries will know how challenging it can be to get engagement with training programmes. Staff may find it hard to schedule time for training alongside their job responsibilities and other commitments, and may also be unsure about the value they will receive from completing a course.

The 11 employees at Sonangol Shipping shared these concerns, but as Costa says they soon found their courses to be beneficial. He says: “The staff were a little apprehensive at first about committing to the training programme. However, now they have started their studies they are enjoying learning as it has highlighted areas where improvements can be made to their roles and they are starting to put into practice some of the content they have learnt.”

Any concerns about the value of the courses, the content and the effectiveness of online learning, have also been assuaged. Costa explains: “Staff have been surprised by how comprehensive the course material has been and how easy it is to study online. They can download the individual modules and study where and when they want to, knowing that there is always support from the MTA training team should they need it.”

The benefits of distance learning
Distance learning, where employees log in to their course and study online, has gained in popularity in recent years for a number of reasons. For employers like Sonangol Shipping it means training doesn’t have to be completed offsite or in a classroom, which could take employees away from their desk or station for hours or days at a time. It also gives global companies access to accredited training courses supplied by training providers based hundreds of miles away.

“The training package offer by the Maritime Training Academy was very attractive. The course covered all of the areas that we were looking for in a training course with the added benefit of it being delivered by distance learning. This meant that staff could study when they wanted to instead of having to take time out of work to complete a classroom based course, which is not what the management wanted,” Costa comments.

Many employees also welcome this; they like the flexibility of distance learning and the ability to manage their own time and study at their own pace. While classroom-based learning is still extremely valuable for some types of training, a well-designed online training course (also known as e-learning) is highly effective for many types of maritime training.

One disadvantage to distance learning is that students can sometimes miss out on the camaraderie, motivation and energy that group study can bring. However, in Sonangol Shipping’s case, 11 employees are enrolled on the courses and therefore have the opportunity to share their experience and support each other throughout their course.

Combined with MTA’s support, including its training team and industry experts, students are not alone when studying independently either at home or when at work.

Andrew Deere is Managing Director of the Maritime Training Academy, which offers a portfolio of online training courses, covering all aspects of the maritime industry, from practical skill advancements in the shipping industry to sharpening skills for positions within the superyacht industry. Courses are aimed at those who want to develop their careers within the industry to those wanting to enter this exciting marketplace. Maritime Training Academy’s distance learning courses give students the opportunity to learn and develop while they work.