Trying to push professionals beyond their circle of competence is a battle. Most people have a strong inner drive to resist learning more than they absolutely have to, except in those particular subjects which intrigue them. Screw radar navigation, I’ll never need it. But I’ll spend hours on fantasy football.
To find where the line of your competence is drawn you have to be pushed beyond it. Few will push themselves. The best way to push them is with training. But people will push back against the time/expense. And training programs often have no consequences for failure.
I was speaking with a captain lately who went to an STCW firefighting course. He was shocked when the instructor allowed trainees to opt out of the actual firefighting part. But having run STCW courses for hire myself, I recognize the school’s temptation: you’re hired to pass people, not fail them.
The airlines mandate recurrent pilot training, and threaten to fire those who perform poorly. This threat, if credible, will increase expertise. Imagine if mariners were sent to annual training, and washed out at the level of even 1%. Expertise would rise quite quickly–as would angry emails to congressmen.
Unless there is a threat to livelihood, most training meant to increase expertise has a rubber-stamp quality to it. We once had an in-company training program meant to increase officers’ medical expertise. A rigorous paper test. Voluntary, but with a big cash prize if you passed. Many captains took it. All passed. Expertise increased, right?
A year afterwards a captain asked me if we were offering the test again. “It’s an easy way to make some cash,” he said. “Just cram the night before. In a week, you’ll have forgotten it all.”
To the corporate mind, the program was a waste of money.
Years later, we took another approach. We had another subject we needed to train officers on. A particular emergency plan. We expected officers to learn the plan verbatim, and carry it out during our annual full-crew emergency simulations. But over the years the officers never bothered learning the plan. In simulations, they just winged it. Kept to their circle of competence.
Eventually, I said, you’re going to be tested on the plan. Both in writing, and in simulation. Fail, and your pay will grievously suffer. Period.
Officers learned the plan quick, along with a lot of negativity, hard feelings, and conspiracy theories. Which makes it likely they won’t forget the plan. Which is the point. But as an administrator, I have to worry if this resentment isn’t counterproductive in some other way. People don’t like being pushed beyond their circle.