Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bad Ass Training for Commercial Fishermen

By Theresa McKeon

They say it’s good to move outside your comfort zone. Over the years, I’ve had a terrific time pushing that zone wider and wider. I’ve also found that when you team up with new people, the comfort zone is infinite.

Comfort Zone Expansion - Case History #1

Commercial Fishing Crew and Management

The world has gotten a sneak peek at commercial fishing operations through cable shows such as "Deadliest Catch". The drama on these shows is heightened with editing, but the dangers and difficulties of working in close contact and difficult conditions are real.  Training is primarily for safety purposes and is often antiquated.  Injuries and poor quality control can sink a ship, but employee training on dangerous onboard machinery is virtually zero.  Tim Mientz, the former owner of “the Seafisher” describes his early attempts to bring productive training aboard his ship.
“I spent many thousands of dollars, got my crew together from around the world and brought in a professional suit-and-tie trainer. After two days, all I got from him was a suggestion that the guys take more time off and have some sort of Kumbaya picnic on an island somewhere. Are you kidding me?”
Tim realized his industry urgently needed specialized training and decided to get the ball rolling. Banding together with his safety regulations consultants, Amy Duz and Erika Seather (IWorkWise) the group did some research which led them to TAGteach International and Terry Ryan of (Legacy Canine and chicken training camps). Tim and Amy tasked us with creating a three day training program for crew and management, which would focus on the specific needs of commercial fishermen and processors. In some aspect or another, we were all about to go outside our comfort zones.

The TAG Team

The TAG Team, as we have come to be known has been around for 6 years and we have certainly broken the ‘suit and tie’ mold. The training looks something like this -

Fifteen to twenty men and women from every position on and off the ship arrive from points around the world. There are at least four native languages and some that don’t read or speak English. Graciousness is the first thing you notice. Everyone is on-time, sitting in seats, looking forward, and ready to go. After an introduction by Tim that includes attendees wining cold hard cash, the first eight hours is a crash course in clicker training chickens!  Terry dives in and takes the group through the foundations of operant conditioning by teaching them to recognize and shape discrete behaviors in chickens. The group learns that trying to force a chicken to acquire a skill is frustrating and a waste of time. Using the knowledge of the science of behavior to identify and change both the behavior of the chicken and that of the teacher is the path to success. That lesson crops up throughout the entire three days.

Introducing TAGteach

On the second day of training, I introduce TAGteach. We make the transition from shaping chickens, to communicating and training people. The connection comes early, and the Aha! moments come in tidal waves.

  1. It’s not about the life form of the student; it’s about the teacher providing information the student can consume.
  2. Yelling won’t make someone understand, especially since many of the crew speak English as a second language.
  3. Nagging is a waste of energy. Energy is a precious resource on the ship.
  4. Creating clear criteria during skill acquisition and providing timely reinforcement is far more likely to result in success.

The day is full of finding ways to incorporate TAGteach tools, especially the focus funnel into training.

Application of Behavioral Principles to Commercial Fishing Issues

The third day is led by Tim, Amy and Erika and once more the focus is on transition.  It’s a day of safe and open discussion about applying the information from the workshop to specific applications on the ship. The discussions can get heated, but they are tempered by shifting the focus back to problem solving instead of problem blaming.

The three days are intense, but peppered with time for brain rest, smoke breaks, meal times and communication opportunities for the crew. We use real poker chips from the local casino to inspire participation and fun. The poker chips can be used at the casino after training or turned in for cash. We’ve seen real success stories as crew and management have used the class as an opportunity to tackle issues of the past and set up for success in the future.

Way Out of Our Comfort Zone

The commercial fishermen came into a classroom full of chickens and thought, “Way out of my comfort zone”.  But after proper introduction, they were cooing and petting the chickens as if they were family dogs.  At the end of the workshop they were still in conversation about potential applications of TAGteach. “We can use this here.” “I can see that will help there”. They had successfully increased the comfort zone.

I came into a classroom full of commercial fishermen and thought, “Way out of my comfort zone.” But I was soon talking behavior and audible markers with the captain of the ship as we created training plans together. Together with Tim, Terry, Amy and Erika, I had kicked the edges of my comfort zone.
What’s next and who wants to go with me?

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