Given the huge number of concerns facing the cruise industry, training is the issue at the forefront of modern cruiseship operations. Technological advances in digital media, software programming, interactivity, animation and instructional design are
paving the way for increased synergies and efficiencies in the field of maritime training.

While there will always be a need for hands-on training, a trend towards e-learning in professional development and higher education will be beneficial to the training of a ship’s officers and crews.

At Holland America Line and Windstar Cruises, training is taken seriously. It is embraced as a means of influencing the corporate culture and helping to meet the ever-increasing regulatory requirements that govern the cruise industry. High-quality training is the only possible means to ensure the safety and security of employees and passengers during routine activities and emergency situations.

Providing a high level of service to guests is what makes Holland America successful, and this requires investment in its employees.

In 2005, Holland America looked at how training is performed and what impact it has on customer service, loss prevention, incident response, and employee performance and development. A number of challenges were identified that greatly influence the cost and effectiveness of training programmes.

Once these challenges were identified, a strategy was made to redesign the line’s corporate and fleet training methodologies so that the advantages of training were maximised to increase effectiveness and reduce overall cost. The result was the Training Initiative, which contains three areas of focus.


As much training is created as is appropriate in an e-learning format using interactivity and instructional design to maximise effectiveness. After an extensive request for proposals (RfP) process, Holland America contracted the largest provider of high-end computer-based training (CBT) programmes to produce high-quality course content design and programming.

CBT technology allows for manipulation and simulation of high-resolution graphic images for any aspect of training. For example, prior to performing a service or maintenance operation on a specific piece of equipment, the engineer could learn and practice it on a computer.

Graphic images of the equipment are created in 3D, allowing the user to rotate and flip the images to view the equipment from any angle. The parts can be ‘exploded’ to show how they are assembled and disassembled, and the user can be tested on the correct order of the process – if a washer or spring is placed back in the wrong order, the CBT will correct the user.

Used as a reference guide, a CBT can print out the diagrams, parts list, tool list, personal protective equipment list, and a list of steps necessary to perform the operation.


The Learning Management System (LMS) software was installed and implemented to store, launch, document and track CBT courses. A comprehensive six-month RfP process identified the major candidates in this field and allowed Holland America to choose the best system for its unique requirements.

The SumTotal LMS 7.1 system launches and documents all CBT courses and is available to employees from the office, aboard the ships and from anywhere with internet access (including the home or a hotel). It also documents and tracks all instructor-led training (ILT) course attendance, training resources, training contractors and more.

A Report Manager module quickly compiles data and presents training reports in any style desired and allows the use of standard report templates so that the office and ships can respond to audit inquiries for training information at the click of the mouse.


The design and use of CBT courses allow Holland America to develop training
solutions that are delivered entirely electronically in some cases, and in a blended learning format in others. One course that can be delivered exclusively via computer is the Cultural Awareness course that teaches employees about the cultural differences that exist among the cruise line’s workforce.

It includes geographic, historic and economic information for each country and discusses social behaviour and situations. Employees are then shown a series of social interactions in different settings that they might encounter, and must determine which actions and responses are acceptable in a given situation.

The CBT program provides feedback for any incorrect answers, and will generate a printed certificate upon completion with a minimum score. One example of a blended learning solution that combines CBT and hands-on approaches is the Holland America course for tender operators.

“By automating and streamlining the complex training and reporting processes, the line is already experiencing significant efficiencies and cost reductions.”

After meeting a minimum industry standard for qualification as a tender operator, the candidate must complete a comprehensive CBT course covering basic navigation, collision regulations, boat manoeuvring, emergency procedures and related subjects.

Upon completion, the candidate must pass an online test with a minimum score in order to qualify for an apprenticeship under an experienced operator. If the minimum score is attained, the CBT prints out a certificate of completion, a checklist of practical exercises for the apprenticeship, and a final qualification checklist of items that must be assessed and signed off by a licensed deck officer.

The candidate is only certified as a tender operator when the CBT, apprenticeship and final qualifications are completed, and each step including final certification is recorded in the LMS, which then sends the data to the Human Resources Information System to be added to the individual’s personnel file.

Holland America’s LMS is designed to operate offline on each vessel 24 hours a day. Once a day, each ship system connects automatically via satellite communications link to synchronise with the main LMS server at the corporate headquarters.

All employee data is updated, and small amounts of learning content are sent back to each ship server to update the training courses. Training reports generated in the corporate office use data no older than 24 hours no matter where each ship is located.


It will be several years before the full benefits of Holland America’s Training Initiative are fully realised. However, by automating and streamlining the complex training and reporting processes, the line is already experiencing significant efficiencies and cost reductions. At the same time, portions of the training are being made more convenient and faster for employees, and less of a distraction from their shipboard duties.

Proactive notification of upcoming expirations increases the level of compliance.
With accurate and current information about employee training and readiness, management can quickly identify and eliminate gaps in training and certification.
The ease and power of reporting enables quick and accurate responses to audits, saves staff time and eliminates dependence on paper copy transfers.

Ultimately, more efficient and effective training processes help Holland America
provide world-class service and protect its leadership position while driving down costs. The Training Initiative has a direct role in helping the cruise line achieve its business goals for growth and profitability.