PREFACE: As there appears to be some confusion about this, note that "conn" in Star Trek is not necessarily defined the same way as in present-day nautical terms. In particular, Memory Alpha says:
The flight control officer, also known as conn officer, or simply conn/helm, was the crewmember on a Federation starship assigned the duty of piloting the vessel. This position combined the roles of the navigator and helmsman used previously. The term "conn" was also used to refer to the flight control station itself.
Thus, "conn" on Star Trek is not the person in charge of the bridge, not the person who gives commands or who determines the course, it's the person who enters the coordinates to travel to or who rotates the vessel and activates thrusters.
In some of the Star Trek series, most notably in TNG, the conn officer (the person steering the ship) was often a rather low-ranking crewmember. In particular, the list included total newbies (Wesley Crusher), crewmembers who would occasionally also do other things (Ro Laren), and an overall large number of ensigns, some Lieutenants Junior Grade, and a few full Lieutenants. While watching TNG, this gave me the impression that plenty of officers with basic training are fit to be assigned to the conn station without any specific piloting skills.
The same sometimes happened on DS9's Defiant, when it was not the main cast filling in as a conn.
Now, this seems to be somewhat in conflict with how the position of the conn was presented in the other series, sometimes also on TNG:
- First, in the TNG episode "Booby Trap", a delicate maneuver has to be executed… and Picard replaces the conn officer to do that. Not only does this show Picard is another officer who can casually use the conn console, presumably without any special preparation, but it is an example where the conn officer (who should presumably be the specialist for flight control on the bridge) is not deemed capable enough for the tricky part of the task.
- Likewise, in Star Trek: Insurrection, Riker uses the "manual control column" himself once a complex maneuver has to be performed.
- In series where the permanent conn officer(s) belong to the main cast (TOS, VOY, ENT), they are not just "some crewmembers who usually man the conn" (as it was sometimes the case with LaForge and Worf in TNG's 1st season). Instead, actually quite a big deal is made about at least Sulu and Paris specifically being excellent navigators/pilots.
- And lastly, it also seems somewhat logical that "taking the conn" of a large starship might require some additional training. Entering target coordinates for a travel at warp speed may be unproblematic, and we do not know exactly to what extent the computer helps the pilot pilot the ship. Yet, at least when we look at the degree of manual control during the aforementioned special maneuvers, it becomes evident that the conn officer would have to have extensive experience with piloting the particular ship class. While it is conceivable these maneuvers are not normally needed and thus most crewmembers do not need that training, it is also doubtful whether the captain or first officer of all people would be the ones to have that training.
Is there any information on why especially TNG conveyed an "everyone can do conn" impression?
Is this maybe based on some real precedent from military ships that was (mindlessly or not) taken over for TNG?