COLUMN | Mr. Bean – saint or sinner? [Tug Times]

TUG & SALVAGE WORLD
Photo: Damen

Forgive me, gentle reader, I am not referring to that Mr. Bean, but rather to Martin Bean, who is said to be vice-chancellor of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and at first glance appears to fall squarely into the category of sinner.

He propounds his theories with a certain wit and humour, as you would expect from a former head of the Open University (where at least one second-rate columnist obtained his degrees), but at first glance his ideas appear to be toxic, pandering drivel.

In a nutshell, Mr. Bean claims that 50 per cent of existing jobs will disappear in the next 20 years, and while we will still need a few people with hard skills – who I assume are people who know what they are doing – most future jobs will rely on soft skills, which I think means the ability to look things up on Wikipedia.

Whereas my generation aspired to getting a degree or a certificate of competency then working in the same profession for the rest of their lives, Mr. Bean claims the average 15-year-old today will have 17 employers and at least five quite distinct careers.

Dedicated degrees, which are rapidly becoming too expensive for the average billionaire, will be replaced by a lifelong accumulation of online “micro credentials”, which will build into “digital badges” on each person’s individual blockchain.

Future employers will look not for degrees, but for a wide range of soft skills including micro credentials in things such as communication skills, collaboration skills, enterprise readiness, leadership, global awareness, work-readiness, critical thinking, sustainability and community engagement.

“Fewer and fewer employers will take responsibility for building the skills people need for future jobs”

Forget for a moment the ludicrous suggestion that leadership can be taught in five minutes on a computer, or that years of studying navigation can be replaced by a short course in global awareness, and remember that we are supposed to live in a knowledge-based economy, and this rubbish is what is now defined as knowledge. And in Mr. Bean’s world, knowledge becomes a critically important currency.

Even worse, with the advent of 5G technology, mobile phones will become “weapons of mass distraction” that will lead to empowerment but also unprecedented mental stress.

Resiliance will become a vital future skill, but will not be easy to acquire, and all Bean can suggest is that youngsters should be encouraged to take holiday jobs to expose them to the world of work. Quite how they will ever hold down a job when they are welded to their mobile telephones is not explained. Meanwhile, RMIT is actually producing new micro courses. God help us.

Mr. Bean’s final sally is that fewer and fewer employers will take responsibility for building the skills people need for future jobs, so it will be up to the individual to take personal responsibility for acquiring those skills.

Apparently he concludes with the line, “I hope I have been able to provoke a few thoughts but, if not, at least you can tell your children you have met Mr. Bean,” which makes me hope he is not really an educator but an aspiring comedian who is perpetrating a gigantic hoax. Even the “real” Mr. Bean was never this ridiculous.

“So sack them”

Sadly, there is evidence that others are also pandering to the limited attention span of today’s youth. One publisher of renowned nautical texts recently told me they are revising one of their flagship publications – a book simply packed with good, solid, seamanlike advice – and I asked why they needed to change such a good book?

In essence, their reply was that it contained too much information, and a younger member of their staff was adamant that today’s cadets and junior officers simply would not read it.

“So sack them” was my immediate reply. If we have young people who are not prepared to drag themselves away from their mobile telephones long enough to learn their jobs, we should get rid of them, not pander to the little blighters.

On a similar theme, an evening course I help run for cadets in Hong Kong to prepare them for job interviews was disrupted by last year’s riots. The little darlings were out rioting all weekend, so were simply too tired to turn up to Monday evening sessions.

My immediate reaction was to cancel the course since such people are not wanted at sea. After all, what would happen if a little terrorist who cut his or her teeth protesting against authority in Hong Kong, suddenly decided he or she did not like being told what to do by the Collision Regulations, or decided to go his or her own way when the captain yelled “hard a starboard”?

Naturally, I was overruled by the panderers, and the course continued, even after the evening when three lecturers turned up in their own time and at their own expense to teach the two students who bothered to attend.

“We also know there are good tug simulators out there, although they will have to be re-labelled as ‘virtual reality experiences’”

These are depressing times, particularly in Hong Kong, but Mr. Bean did get me thinking – or what passes for thinking in my feeble brain. For years I have bemoaned the fact that many vessel types have become highly specialised, particularly tugs, workboats and offshore vessels, yet anyone with a generic certificate of competency is supposed to be able to leap on board and sail away rejoicing.

This is a ludicrous situation, especially for us, because we once had dedicated tug master qualifications. But perhaps we can turn these crazy new ideas to our advantage. If there were micro courses about towage and tug handling, they could be made compulsory and combined with simulator training to produce young morons who might actually be useful after a few months under an experienced tug master.

The courses could be delivered on their telephones so they would not be able to avoid them, and they would flock to the simulator if we told them it was virtual reality training, because virtual reality is much more appealing to the young than real life or work in any of its forms.

So by trickery we could actually train the next generation of tug masters, and once they mastered the complexities they might actually enjoy it, without ever realising we had used technology to entrap them.

And the good news is, such micro courses already exist. I know my friend Arie Nygh uses something like them in his company, and I suspect he might not be the only one. So it should not be too difficult to acquire the courses and secretly plant them on the mobile telephones of our potential victims. We also know there are good tug simulators out there, although they will have to be re-labelled as “virtual reality experiences”.

Best of all, the youngsters will never know we are manipulating them, because they will never visit a technical website such as this in their miserable lives.

See all the content from the current Tug and Salvage Week right here


Alan Loynd

Alan Loynd is a master mariner with extensive seagoing and shore experience, especially in the areas of salvage and towage. He is the former General Manager of the renowned Hong Kong Salvage and Towage company. He now runs his own marine consultancy and was chairman of the International Tugmasters Association.