by Capt. Stephen Polk
Director, Center for Maritime Education
Captain David Howell started his career offshore. For 20 years he worked on supply boats, offshore towing boats, and wire boats, giving him experience up and down the East coast, Gulf coast, and many ports internationally. Before starting at SCI he worked at Buffalo Marine Services for 10 years, working primarily out of Mobile AL. After being underway for over 30 years, Captain David “Dave” Howell is truly giving back to the maritime community.
Since joining The Seamen’s Church Institute’s (SCI) Center for Maritime Education (CME) in Houston, TX, he has helped to make our Transas assessment programs shine. Several companies have taken advantage of our programs which are beneficial in many ways:
- Steersmen selection. Companies will spend $100,000 per person, per year training apprentice mates, and the process can take on average 2-3 years. Several companies have steersman programs where the applicant pools exceed the number of slots available. By running apprentice mate applicants through a series of simulations, you can identify which candidates possess the strongest “aptitude” to become pilots. SCI is happy to provide this service as a third party objective aptitude assessment. Other steersman assessments include times when the Captain/DE says a steersman is ready to break out. SCI can run probationary pilots through a battery of more advanced simulations to identify gaps in their training and development. We can assist with verifying the readiness of potential steersmen waiting to be promoted or assigned to a new vessel as Pilot.
- Pre-hire assessments. Often companies will review employment applications, complete a thorough interview with Port Captains and Operations Managers, then assign new hires to a vessel only to discover the hard way that the person is not who they thought. As a means to manage risk, SCI offers pre-hire assessments for potential candidates; this can lead to a pre-employment conditional offer pending the successful outcome of the simulation. This offers several advantages: first, it is an opportunity to test what the applicant stated on the application, because if they cannot perform it becomes obvious within the first few minutes. Secondly, it means equipment is not damaged, cargo is not spilled, and no disciplinary measures need to be taken if the person does not perform well. However, on the positive note, it offers an opportunity for the mariner to shine, and we have a chance to highlight the strengths of the candidate within the detailed report.
- Towing Officer Assessment Requirements. Performing individual TOAR items in a simulator supplements the training that takes place onboard, it cannot replace it. By training and rehearsing the tasks and elements required to run a boat in the simulator, students can learn by “pattern recognition.” They get to practice several (high-risk or seasonal) tasks over and over until they can repeat it reliably. This assists with advancing the training time necessary for companies who want to promote from within because we can assist mariners with 1-2 items left on their TOAR and get them running a boat sooner through active simulations. Steersmen get the chance to ask questions—and even to fail—and also the opportunity to learn from their mistakes made in a safe environment.
- Post-incident lessons learned. To err is human, but in our no-fail, zero-risk culture it means that prevention is paramount. Therefore, we all must learn to not make the same mistake twice. By re-creating incidents and running exercises that resulted in a near-miss or a casualty and asking what went wrong, it is possible to discover operational gaps relating to procedures, property, or people. Simulation reports can then be published to the fleet or bulletin so the organization can learn from them.
SCI’s Captain David Howells is a key component in the successes of our Transas program. A representative of Buffalo Marine Service said recently, “David…has been a vital tool in helping us with the training and development of our wheelmen. His detailed comments on individuals give us great feedback and enable us to identify gaps in training which helps us improve our training programs. I am very happy with the results of the assessments and my crew members have given positive feedback on the useful things that they learn with the one-on-one direction David provides.”
With Captain David’s experience and his teacher’s heart, he is a hugely valuable asset. As Director of the SCI Center for Maritime Education, I believe he is the best assessor for our customers, and the best in the business! We at SCI are excited about our ability to support mariners, our key stakeholders, and the maritime community in finding the right people, boosting them in their career, and helping all of us to learn from mistakes.