DFDS’s success shows apprenticeships can help in recruiting ratings

Mark Burgess, Merchant Navy Training Board
The ratings workforce is a vital component of UK shipping but, as we highlighted in an earlier blog, its future is under threat.

Figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) estimate the number of UK ratings at around 8,800. Although a net 13% increase in UK ratings is expected by 2026, this figure is skewed by the high projected growth in the number of hospitality ratings, which is expected to rise by 30% between 2016 and 2026.

Non-hospitality ratings, however, are projected to decrease by 16% over the same period, according to data from the 2017 DfT UK’s ‘Seafarers Projections: 2016 to 2026’ report.

What is more, the existing workforce is ageing. Around 75% of UK deck and engine ratings are in the 40+ age group, according to the 2017 UK Ratings Survey.

We should be worried about this.

Attempts have been made to initiate recruitment into ratings roles, but none have yet succeeded in doing so in any sustainable way. It is thought that the apprenticeship route of vocational training represents a possible solution to increase the number of ratings employed in the UK.

DFDS is one company that has offered ratings apprenticeships with successful results. On the 3rd of October this year, onboard the MS Dunkerque Seaways, the company marked five deck and engine apprentices’ successful completion of their apprenticeship programme. The five are now working on permanent employment contracts with the company.

The DFDS programme operates broadly on a two weeks on/one week off basis and usually on the same ship, fostering a sense of belonging to the vessel and its crew. DFDS has tended to recruit five or six apprentices at a time, usually at the end of the summer. Alongside the sea time, there are blocks of study time at North Kent College, beginning with basic STCW safety training.

DFDS ratings apprentices 2The four deck apprentices were presented with commemorative compasses and the engineer apprentice with an engine room telegraph by Captain Andrew Armstrong at the ceremony. Gemma Griffin, DFDS’ vice-president of HR and Crewing, spoke of the importance of inward investment and the beneficial effects for both the town of Dover and the wider industry.

The wider industry might like to take note of a company where there is a determination to train up a new generation and allow the brightest and the keenest to rise as far up the ranks as they care to go. To this end, there is a strong network of support for the apprenticeship programme from fellow ABs, officers and captains both past and present, all of whom have put their time and authority behind this programme. This is paying dividends in terms of retention and subsequent employment of ratings.

This kind of programme requires proper determination and a clear-eyed view of what a future ratings workforce is going to look like. At the DFDS ceremony, there was also considerable pride in the recruitment of their first female engineering apprentice. At this point in time, the Deck and Engine apprentices are located mainly on ferries and in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA), with a few other outliers.

If other sectors like offshore, exploration or deep-sea trades are going to follow suit in running a ratings apprenticeship programme, DFDS’ success goes to show that nurture and investment with support across the board is a good way to start.
Author: Mark Burgess, Training Development Manager, Merchant Navy Training Board
Source: UK Chamber of Shipping 

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