Maritime careers: No need to get your feet wet!

By: Lorna Wagner

Programme Manager
lwagner@maritimeuk.org

You can’t know what you don’t know. I am only too aware of that. Before taking on the role of Maritime UK’s Programme Manager for Careers and Outreach earlier this year, I was a qualified and experienced Careers Leader working in a college only six miles from Southampton Docks. And yet – I had no idea how vast the maritime sector is (bigger than rail and air combined in the UK) and had little understanding of the enormous breadth of fascinating, rewarding and well-paid career opportunities within it.

I was not the only one. Since joining Maritime UK in May, I have seen first-hand just how poorly understood the maritime sector is. I am on a mission to change that.

I was recently asked two questions. First: Can you have a job in maritime without getting your feet wet? Second: Can you have a job in maritime if you get seasick? The answer to both is – of course – yes. Those who think that a career in maritime means a lifetime on a ship at sea really do need to think again.

At least 75% of the jobs in maritime are based on shore, and they cut across a myriad of disciplines. In a large port operation, there will be obvious roles such as stevedoring, forklift truck driving and warehousing management. There will be admin roles such as berth planning, marketing, IT, freight forwarding and ship agency. There will be roles in security, environmental protection, regulatory compliance and health & safety. And there will be services such as hydrographic surveying, vessel traffic services (VTS), dredging, towage, inspecting and diving to consider. ‘Maritime’ includes boatbuilders & skilled services careers, marina operators, harbour masters, marine insurers, naval architects …. I could go on!

Maritime UK is the umbrella organisation for the industry, set up to raise the profile of maritime and work with Government and others to make sure the industry gets the support it needs. A thriving maritime sector is vital for us all – after all, 95% of the UK’s global trade is carried by sea. The DfT’s Maritime 2050 report noted that the industry is set to double in size – but there is a skills gap. The industry needs talented, enthusiastic people to join and to stay.

In our push to raise the profile of the industry, we have welcomed more than 250 people to our Careers Professionals’ Network, for which we are running a series of CPD webinars. Most recently these have included online sessions focusing on:

  • General maritime awareness;
  • Maritime industries supporting wind and renewable power;
  • Leisure marine/harbour-based jobs.

We have extended our sessions to include Jobcentre Plus and other careers advisors, as well as those in schools and colleges. We want to reach young people starting out in the world of work but we also want to attract adult job seekers.

Nearly 70 maritime professionals have signed up to our Maritime UK ambassador network and have been taking their first bookings to support colleges and schools remotely with careers events. That includes primary as well as secondary schools – it’s recognised that youngsters can start to discount careers options as early as age seven or eight, so it’s up to us to tell them what’s on offer and keep the doors open!

I can’t possibly talk to every careers advisor in the country (although those who know me, might expect me to try!). I have to be strategic, so I spend a good deal of time engaging with LEPs and local authorities – and, through them, careers hubs and so on to the careers advisors. We have extended the resources available on our website to provide more virtual tools. In this brave new Zoom world, people have become more comfortable accessing content remotely and we are getting more and more requests for support with careers activity.

I want to make sure that every careers specialist knows about maritime. If a would-be carpenter comes for advice, will they suggest boatbuilding? I sincerely hope so!

Case study: Sophie Appleby - Environmental Lead, ABP Southampton

After joining Associated British Ports’ graduate management scheme in 2015 as a geography graduate, Sophie Appleby spent a year gaining operational port experience in ABP’s Humber ports.

Working on the Green Port Hull development project, which is manufacturing and exporting offshore wind turbine blades, gave her an introduction to environmental management; then, in her first management position, she was responsible for managing all of the environmental surveys, “everything from birds to water quality to the construction waste”, reporting back to regulators to demonstrate that ABP had met its obligations.

Next she joined ABP’s marine environmental consultancy, where she managed a portfolio of environmental survey work and stepped up her knowledge and skills – from biosecurity assessments to environmental permitting.  

In 2018 she joined ABP Southampton, where she is now Environmental Lead and also supports some of ABP’s smaller ports.

“This is a very varied role. I split my time between environmental governance, making sure we are working sustainably and with environmental responsibility, and project work and the management of environmental work streams such as air quality,” she says. “ABP has had port environmental managers for many years – but the environment has now become a really top priority and focus for the business and is regarded in much the same way as health & safety.”

Sophie, who is 26, interacts with many different departments and people: “My job overlaps with the shipping itself, and with people who have worked at sea. They can provide the experience and guidance needed and we work very closely together. I have learned so much about shipping and the maritime industry from a shore-based role.”

A particular focus right now is on the infrastructure upgrade at ABP Lowestoft, to support the growth of the offshore wind power industry. “My role is to make sure that we are being responsible, that everything is assessed and that we minimise our impact on the local environment,” says Sophie. “When I am asked what I do, I say I work in ports – people are always interested in what that involves!”

Case study: Aidan Hinchcliffe - marine engineer

Aidan Hinchcliffe was 16 when he embarked on a four-year marine engineering apprenticeship with Berthon Boat Company in September 2019.

Having decided on the apprenticeship path in preference to A levels, he started with six months full time at college. The Covid-19 lockdown caused a delay in beginning practical work at the boatyard in Lymington, but now all is back on track as he works at the yard and spends one day a week at college for the next three years.

“I had always liked engineering and had done my own projects since I was young, including making a hovercraft out of a leaf-blower and tinkering with motor bikes,” he says. “At school they encouraged apprenticeships as well as university. I have always been hands-on and they pushed the engineering side, although not necessarily marine engineering.”

He is one of 12 apprentices taken on in the same year by Berthon, including boatbuilders, electricians and a rigger. The company handles all aspects of yacht and motor boat repairs, refits, maintenance and servicing – to date, Aidan has been mainly working on MoD boats.

At the end of the apprenticeship, he hopes to develop his career further within the company; at some point in the future, he would like to work on larger vessels as an engineer. “Definitely my career will be with boats, whatever I do,” he says.

In June, he won the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology’s 2020 Lady Hamlyn Award, which rewards outstanding commitment from an apprentice. He received £1,000 to help with his career – that will be a major help for Aidan, who lives on the Isle of Wight and catches an early morning ferry every day to get to work on the mainland.

He would encourage others to follow his choice: “If you are hands-on and like working with other people, and you work better doing something practical rather than being in the classroom, then an apprenticeship is definitely the route for you!”

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