Untangling the Competence Dilemma pt 1

NL 56 Dilemma

Capt. Richard Teo

Continued from previous issue…

What is competency-based training and assessment?

Competency-based training is an adult learning methodology based on the action-reflective-learning (ARL)approach where emphasis is placed on what a learner “can do well and effectively” or praxis in the workplace as a result of their development and training. It is double-loop learning as against traditional single-loop learning.

Figure 4 – Double-loop learning (Source: Eberle & Childress 2005)

Learners who have successfully achieved or attained the relevant standard competence or competences will have the skills, knowledge and attitude they need to complete workplace activities in a range of different conditions, situations and environments, to that industry standard of performance that is expected and desired in the workplace. It cannot be attained from a class room, college based environment without special resources.

Competency-based training is based on demonstrable performance standards that should have been set by industry. An example is the STCW convention 1978 as amended (2010 currently). This is the minimum. Some maritime nations have gone ahead to produce their own national standards to match and or surpass the STCW convention. These nations have also progressed ahead in their applications of competency based learning and outcomes based education to ensure that officers serving on board ships are fully competent to perform safely and correctly each time, every time, all the time at the work place. This is the “Praxis” or common user Quality Standard for every skilful worker and the organisation that employs them. These nations have produced Training Packages that embed the national qualifications framework with the learning and assessment strategies of the competences within the standards.

Competency-based training and its delivery allows for flexible entry and exit for learners enabling them to complete their learning and doing much quicker. Once they have achieved competency in one accepted competency by the standard assessment tools, they can then move onto the next competency. Holistic delivery can put a person through cluster or skill sets (two or more competences) effectively where applicable.

Training can take place both on (on-site) and off-the-job (off-site) using a variety of delivery modes, learning and methods. Learning Management Systems are improving regularly at a very quick rate, e.g. ELearning, media-learning, MOOCS, MOODLS, TIN CAN API and so on.

Competency-based assessment materials are designed to ensure that each learner has achieved all the outcomes (knowledge, skills and attitude) required by each described and agreed competency.


It is imperative that we distinguish competence as the product of continuing proficiency. Within the context of the STCW, the term “proficiency” appears in the standards of competence for each level of qualifications. Without going into the various academic debates and arguments as to which comes first and so on, it is prudent for our maritime context to accept that competence is a product of continuing proficiency, which itself must be a continuing and sustainable learning process after mastery. It is the life-long learning aspect of a mariner’s productive work life. In most cases if the life-long learning ceases, the mariner also ceases to be productive, due to invalidity and non-currency of trade and professional skills caused by lack of continuing professional development.

Human Centred Learning Approaches to Attaining Competence

There is considerable noise and shouting across the shipping industry corridors about the importance of human centred competences. Yet this situation has been on the books since the 1995 amendments.

The fact that is most ignored, is that competences are all about humans at work and hence competency based or outcomes based approach, an adult learning methodology is and has always been human centred. Hence training and development must be learner centred and outcomes based, particularly when all mariners are adults, even the youngest cadet on board. Adult learners are able to self-conceptualise, self-manage, self-direct, and self-determine their learning. Each adult learner usually isself-aware of their learning styles and capabilities and limitations. If not the teacher, trainer, lecturer, instructor (i.e. the facilitator) is duty bound to ensure the learner(s) realise these attributes and become self-aware of themselves, in particular their learning capabilities.

The teacher in today’s best practice is required to facilitate the learners’ learning ability, i.e. to learn effectively, guide, mentor, coach, provide and manage the best conducive learning spaces and environments. He or she must ensure that the transfer of the agreed knowledge, skills and attitude that makes up the competence(s) are fulfilled effectively by the learning strategies (delivery). These learning strategies must include assessment strategies, supported by well-designed assessment tools and methods with appropriate and rigorous rubrics. These rubrics, qualitative and quantitative must measure the performance sufficiently in accordance with the performance criteria for the respective competences. The critical evidence produced by the assessee/learner must meet the specified role of evidence conducted in accordance with the rules of assessment. All assessments must be verified and validated by another similarly qualified assessor or panel of assessors.

What has been mistaken by and large is that MET had not taken on board competency based learning seriously enough even after it became mandatory in the STCW 1995 amendments. This, despite many reminders from the Secretary General of IMO and other senior staff members. Many MET practitioners continued to stand in front of a classroom, didactically deliver lectures that were subject based. Students then without fail, committed huge chunks of information to memory (rote) and regurgitated as much as could be remembered at lengthy examinations. They were then graded to a minimum pass mark and deemed competent once the orals (viva voce) were completed. These orals were again memory tests with some theoretical explanations of how to manoeuvre ships at sea, spattered with some regulatory information. Little or no demonstrations of knowledge, skills and attitudes were assessed adequately or sufficiently. None of these followed the rules of assessment and the rules of evidence, and were often unfair, inflexible, un-authenticated and likely non-current praxis. The unfairness was compounded by un-validated tests or assessments.

Ship operators and well experienced fleet managers are calling for human factor competencies that include soft skills and practitioner skills. These are already embedded in the dimensions of competence but not addressed or assessed in traditional, non-competency based courses and inappropriate knowledge based examinations that many MET institutions practice.

To explain further, the dimensions of competence are as illustrated below.

Task skills
Task skills focus on being able to perform the task at an acceptable level to the organisation or industry.

Task management skills
Task management skills refer to the ability to manage a number of different tasks that form part of the job. This involves being able to integrate a number of different tasks to achieve a complete work outcome.

Job role/environment skills
Job role/environment skills refer to the need to fulfil the requirements and expectations of the organisation.

Contingency management skills
Contingency management skills refer to the ability to respond appropriately when things go wrong or if the equipment breaks down, alternative strategies need to be employed.

Transfer skills

Which means having the capacity to transfer skills and knowledge to other contexts.

Accompanying skills
Applying leadership and management skills to the Economic & Commercial applications – performing to ensure productivity to the constraints of budgets and margins.

Assessing Competence
Competency standards define the requirements for effective workplace performance in a discrete area of work, work function, activity or process. They are used as the basis for defining learning outcomes and assessment benchmarks within the Professional, Vocational Education and Training (VET) and maritime sector.

Assessments must not be confused with evaluation. Unfortunately in the STCW, these two terms appear in the context of assessments, as though it meant the same thing. It is imperative that as facilitator we clearly differentiate both activities in the determination of competency standards.

Figure 5 below explains the difference effectively. cost.
These costs have been attributed to resources and resources generation. These resources include:

 Effective re-education and re-training of teaching staff and regulatory staff to practice competency based learning and outcomes based education
 Off-site Learning spaces and equipment and its management
 On-site learning spaces– procurement, management, allocation– logistics etc
 Learning and teaching materials– paradigm shift
 Learners’ resources
 Facilitators’ resources, skills update/upgrade and more attention and detail to management of learning, replacing lectures, reading from text books and simple grading tests
 Ship operators’ cooperation and willingness.

Figure 6 – Competency based approach

Competency standards

Competency standards are expressed in outcome terms. They specify knowledge, skill, work attitudes, and the application of that knowledge, skill and attitudes, to the standards of performance required in the workplace.

Competency standards have a set format defined formally by Industry and regulatory bodies. They are also referred to as units, units of competency, competencies, and competency specifications (KPI). It is important to differentiate from the term proficiency.

When assessing competence, it is important that each jurisdiction have published their national qualifications framework that aligns to the STCW 1978 (as amended) convention. Each level of marine qualifications must show what the competences are that finally make up the respective qualification. The STCW code leaves the final determination of attainment to each jurisdiction and their MET institutions. This unfortunately creates gaps and insufficient or inadequate volume of learning that led to inadequate performance criteria to formulate methodology and praxis to ensure that the competences or standards are attained. The rather inadequate argument or excuse has been that there are several models of competency based learning. This is largely untrue and misconstrued as almost all models are outcomes or goal based to standards and when not have shifted their paradigms. Those who still advocate difference really have not clearly understood or wish to practise CBETA-OBE. There are however connotations of increased

Human Factors in Competence Development and Attainment

For human factors in competence development and outcomes, OBE and CBETA embeds Key Competencies (Mayer 1992) and now known as Employability Skills. Each level of marine qualifications have these skills embedded in the various units or standards of competence that make up the qualifications. Examples for Marine Engineer Class 3 and Master Unlimited is tabled below for reference.

Employability skills or core competencies are a constant topic for development of ships’ officers. In 1992, a committee headed by Mayer compiled a list of core competences and called them key competences. Each level of qualifications are supposed to have these key competences embedded in the training curricula. Unless the institution delivered competency based learning, these key competences were not included and hence many graduands were found lacking in soft skills, critical thinking skills, decision making skills, intercultural competence (skills in cross cultural diversity issues in multi-national manning, ports of call, shipping business and organisational practice etc.), effective communications, leadership and management. Also not included were continuing professional development that included keeping abreast of technological advancements in ships’ equipment, management systems and other ongoing changes and commercial practises.

Rapid promotions due to high demand for officers also meant that less experiential learning occurred during his/her career.

Figure 5 – Dimensions of assessment and evaluation Competency standards

Compiled below are two examples of embedded employability skills for Class 3 Marine Engineers and Master Unlimited.
There are eight (8) core skills that must be addressed and embedded in all training programmes. These are:

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1 Comment

  1. February 19, 2018    

    Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you actually know what you’re speaking approximately! Bookmarked. Kindly additionally visit my website =). We can have a link change agreement between us!

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