Most learning and development happen at the workplace. Do we miss our learning opportunities if we are not more concious about this? And how can we ensure that this learning becomes more structured and well managed?

Any professional career demands lifelong learning and regardless of the fact, that we are not always conscious about our learning, we learn every day. In this respect research underlines the fact that most of our learning happens at the workplace. The paradox, however, is that far too many ‘on-the-job’ learning opportunities are uncontrolled, unstructured and therefore either missed or very ineffective.

But how can shipping companies (to ensure effective competence development) manage the quality and process of the on-the-job training? This article claims that shipping companies could improve their ‘spend’ on learning and development through the application of intelligent on-the-job training.

Increased competence development increases retention and job satisfaction

Green-Jakobsen has in previous articles described the link between structured competence development, retention and job satisfaction. Organisations and research institutions such as Harvard Business School, Corporate Leadership Council and others have shown that on-going competence development provides the employee with a feeling of career opportunities, job satisfaction and motivation.

When Green-Jakobsen conducts leadership one of the first assignments given to the participants is to try and define the good leader. Or to put it more precisely: What does a good leader do to categorise him/her as a good leader? The typical answer to this question is that the leader who supported and guided me during my work and helped me develop my skills is the leader virtue most appreciated. Or in other words: People find their inner job motivation through the on-going development of own competencies at the job.

Bearing in mind this close link between competence development and employee motivation it is evident that companies – if they want to develop high performing crew – must ensure strong and effective competence development processes. In short, competence development also reinforces the psychological contract and commitment between employer and employee for the benefit of both parties and company performance.

Most learning and development happen at the workplace

To provide the reader with ideas on how to improve the learning and development ‘spend’ it is at first very important to understand when and how learning happens. Far too often it is the experience of Green-Jakobsen that learning and development is a question of following a training matrix with limited focus on the quality of learning and development and with no clear answer to the question: When, how and where does the best learning and development happen?

In this respect the best answer to this question can be found in the research made within this field of work highlighting the fact that most of the learning and development we undergo happens on-the-job. The ’70-20-10′ learning principles offer us a good answer to our questions and stems from a significant amount of research that indicates that:

70% of our learning happens at the workplace and comes from the actual application and practice of the learning information in a real and practical sense, such as on the job usage or in the pursuit of goals. On the job learning activities fit here without any formal learning event.
20% of learning comes from informal conversations about the learning content, including sharing ideas, experiences and coaching and mentoring about the learning topic.
10% of learning comes from the actual learning event such as workshops, courses, seminars, tutorials and even in some cases reading books, procedures, manuals and articles and watching videos.

Looking at these numbers it is ironic that most training managers, instructors and educators focus on the optimisation of the 10% rather designing, developing and implementing a strong strategy for the 70%. Despite the fact that on-the-job learning has its advantages and disadvantages (some of these are highlighted in the table below) it is of paramount importance that shipping companies explore, develop, structure and manage on-the-job training to improve the effect of the learning and development spend.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Generally the most cost-effective
  • Employees are actually productive
  • Opportunity to learn whilst doing
  • Training alongside real colleagues
  • Quality depends on ability of trainer and time available
  • Bad habits might be passed on
  • Learning environment may not be conducive
  • Potential disruption to production


The big question is therefore how can we improve the quality of the training we know takes place at the place and who shall be responsible for managing this process? The table below has been prepared to offer some answers to these two questions:

Mind-set goal Description
Clarify expectations and create shared understanding To build understanding and commitment it is important to help employees make a connection with 70:20:10. Clarify what the model is and how it should be applied so everyone across the business understands their opportunities and their responsibilities.
All employees need to understand and appreciate that they are responsible for own and others’ training All employees need to get engaged in own and others’ learning and development. Learning and development on board is every seafarer’s responsibility and if any employee is not fit for the job more experienced crew members or office staff must help develop the competencies required.
Far too often Green-Jakobsen have met managers and seafarers with the belief that learning and development has to happen in a classroom with an instructor. For Green-Jakobsen this is an ineffective, misunderstood and cost increasing perception.Of course all vessels are different and offer different learning opportunities but the starting point has to be that we all have a responsibility towards others’ and own learning and development – especially at the workplace.
Identify learning opportunities and explain what has to be learnt Every day we have dozens of learning opportunities. On board a ship every ship board operation is in principle a learning opportunity. Some, however, are more important than others and therefore need to be managed with a learning process quality focus.To ensure the best and most correct learning process companies shall help their employees (and trainers) identify the most important learning opportunities, topics and help them manage this process. Baring in mind the 70-20-10 learning principle an improved management of on-the-job training will improve the quality of the learning development efforts and ensure that the ‘spend’ is used wisely.
Competence development demands leadership For employees to understand what competencies have to be developed it is the company’s responsibility to define the job specific competencies needed to be managed in the specific job. A structured competence management process must be implemented and leaders shall ensure that the process is driven in an effective manner.
Job rotation Job rotation is a strong tool to ensure the development of higher-ranking competencies. A rotation model in which the rotating crew members are supported by mentoring from senior officers and in compliance with the rank defined competencies. (E.g. the first mate carries out the work of a chief mate in given period of time)
Focus on the job performance you wish to see rather than the content of the course Some large shore based companies have created a learning culture by reinforcing that learning can occur every day and not solely at formal training events. This approach has been supported by the HR professionals shifting focus to concentrate on business performance requirements and using learning as a means to achieve the required business results, rather than the ‘old school academic’ approach where knowledge and learning were seen as the end result in itself.An example of this is the company’s leadership development program in which participants work on real business-impact operations. The program has few measurable learning objectives but is designed to enable participants to experiment with ‘theories in practice’ through undertaking their everyday work.
Link the appraisal process with the 70:20:10 Some companies use 70:20:10 to create personal development plans and conduct half-yearly appraisals. For these organisations the 70:20:10 model helps plan performance development targets and learning opportunities. By reviewing many possible learning activities, the organisation’s ‘training mentality’ has been challenged and staff awareness that learning can take place outside formal courses has increased.
Signing on interview highlighting performance expectations and learning opportunities Green-Jakobsen has together with a number of clients helped implement signing on interviews with the objective of explaining seafarer learning and development expectations in the contract period. The effect of these interviews has been positive. Communicating performance expectations and the design of a learning path for the given contract period has had a positive impact on the performance development.
Learning and development professionals shall provide ‘trainer’ guidance To ensure that learning development happens in the correct manner learning and development professionals shall provide intro ‘Train-the-Trainer’ tools explaining basic principles of facilitating a learning and development process.
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Erik Green
Erik Green
Managing Director and Partner

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