Psychometric Assessments for Seafarers – Benefits versus Drawbacks

With the pleasure of the participation from Dr. Luiza Shahbazyan, Safebridge Product Manager, Mr. Torger Tau and Ms. Claudia Solomon, Seagull Maritime UK, Ms. Mariangela Zanaki, Ceosan Consulting and, of course, the Cyprus Branch Committee and team of the long-time supporters of the Branch, Intership Navigation, Yvonne Tsanos (AFNI) moderated an interactive and most interesting event entitled ‘Psychometric Assessments: Seafarers Benefits versus Drawbacks’.

As human beings, we all have certain abilities and limitations. For example, human beings are great at pattern discrimination and recognition. There isn’t a machine in the world that can interpret a radar screen as well as a trained human being. On the other hand, we are fairly limited in our memory capacity and in our ability to calculate numbers quickly and accurately while machines can do a much better job! In addition to these inborn characteristics, human performance is also influenced by knowledge and skills we have acquired, as well as by internal regulators such as motivation, alertness and emotions. It became apparent during the event that multiple sources of information, training, attitude and culture can affect the objectivity of such assessments, especially for risk-taking behaviour.

Obviously, a seafaring career calls for a unique set of personality characteristics and traits. Some shipping companies believe these assessments may identify a seafarer’s core competencies and positive attributes during the pre-recruitment stage thus allowing them to consider or perhaps reconsider their decisions on whether to employ or re-employ a candidate. Vital pre-requisites are personality traits (as opposed to character); emotionality (responding to stress & identifying risks), control (managing work & commitments), willpower, energy, ability profiling (perception, thought and initiation) to determine the ratio of test accuracy compared with test completion speed.

Consideration was given to one of the main challenges in the maritime industry – human error in marine losses, whether caused by an incorrect decision, improperly performed action or lack of action. The question was raised whether we are merely ‘appeasing’ regulators by implementing such assessments, should something go wrong on board ship.

The general consensus was that the assessments are being used as an ‘added value’ tool potentially identifying someone “likely” to either directly cause or be a contributing factor towards a possible onboard situation or a marine incident. So we could potentially reduce human factor induced onboard incidents as well as reduce costs and expenses.

Psychometric assessments have already been in existence for some time and it is thought they may become more prominent in their utilisation in years to come to ensure that suitably qualified, competent and motivated seagoing personnel are recruited, trained and retained to deliver safe and reliable operations. The main target of the testing was to identify a seafarer’s core competencies and determine whether he can process critical information and has the right approach.

Care is necessary to remove barriers, particularly in language as well as identifying each corporate cultural demand as ‘one size does not fit all’. Assessments are fine-tuned to meet the specific criteria of Shipowners and Shipmanagers.

The advantages were perhaps on an equal stand with disadvantages. These were:- accuracy versus candidate nervousness?
helping to choose the right person versus cultural barriers being highlighted? time saving versus expensive exercise?

We must keep in mind that human error incidents occurring on ships are generally caused either by technology, the environment or organisational procedures which might cause the person to make mistakes.
A great opportunity followed for networking and continued discussion amongst the delegates which continued late into the evening.

Contribution by Ms Yvonne Tsanos, Vice-Chairwoman, NI Cyprus Branch