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Why we should start talking about mentoring in shipping

In an industry where safety is paramount, mentoring can play a crucial role in helping individuals in the shipping industry develop a broad range of skills, from technical skills related to navigation and other shipboard operations to soft skills like communication, leadership, and problem-solving.

Mentors have played an essential role in communities since ancient times. A mentor is someone who has expertise and experience in a subject that they pass on to a mentee. Mentors pass on their truths to their mentees, who can then use and evolve them by putting their own spin. As a result, mentoring can be an effective means of assisting an individual in dealing with uncertainty. In other words, mentoring serves as a bridge between previous knowledge and future innovation.

However, mentoring is less common nowadays due to its nature. People have less time; they can google something and have an answer in seconds rather than learning progressively through a mentoring process. Unfortunately, with this way of looking at things, humanity risks missing the forest for the trees.

Considering that the shipping industry faces various challenges, such as regulatory changes, environmental considerations, and geopolitical issues, all answers cannot be found on the Internet. Alias, mentoring relationships can offer a platform for discussing and navigating these challenges effectively. In addition, mentoring provides opportunities for networking within the industry. This networking can be instrumental in building professional relationships, staying informed about industry developments, and accessing resources.

Mentoring is considered a vital building block, not only for use as a teaching aid but also for psychological support to engender confidence and competence. A 2019 research on mentoring by Solent University, found that although mentoring is considered a tool that benefits safety culture, training efficiency, and personal development, inconsistencies in its delivery can affect the well-being of individuals and the industry.

Cost efficiency and poor communication mean that managers are often constrained by short-term goals. This means that, whilst the maritime industry is growing and acknowledges its need for qualified and skilled seafarers, the attraction and retention of staff are compromised by the neglect of support networks and long-term management strategies.

The research highlighted that without greater consistency in education to support an international and complex network of seafarers, there will be a ‘void’ in terms of experience as well as a greater prevalence of human error. This applies to both ship and shore networks. However, considering the inherent informal and flexible nature of mentoring, it is neither suitable nor advisable for it to be the subject of statutory or regulatory measures.

Nonetheless, it becomes evident that mentoring can add value to the maritime industry. The task of promoting and proficiently implementing mentoring lies with professional peer groups, associations, and conscientious corporate entities. It is worth mentioning that The Nautical Institute has launched a specific initiative to promote the practice of mentoring at sea, titled ‘The Ten-Minute Mentoring’. It describes mentoring as a cost-less resource that encourages all seafarers to engage informally in sharing experiential knowledge to enhance team and individual performances, acknowledging the need for communication in one language on board in common areas to encourage inclusion, team cohesion, and safe practice.