P&O Ferries is yet another shipping company in the UK to turn to apprenticeships to tackle the demographic challenges that are affecting the rating workforce in the country. With a 16% decrease in the number of non-hospitality ratings forecast by 2026 and an ageing existing workforce, it is critical that the UK merchant-navy ratings workforce is rejuvenated by new recruits.
The apprenticeship route of vocational training could provide a possible solution to increasing the number of ratings employed in the UK and P&O Ferries is one such company that is using apprenticeships to do so. The ferry company’s apprenticeship programme looks to recruit deck and engine-room ratings.
The company marked the successful completion of deck and engine apprenticeships before an audience of colleagues, families and friends on the 24th of October this year. This group of apprentices was the third intake recruited and retained by the company so far. The first commenced a two-year course in 2014, which has so far resulted in 16 former apprentices being employed subsequently within the P&O fleet as either deck or engine room ratings.
The 2018 intake consists of ten apprentices, who will be trained at the National Maritime Training Centre at North Kent College, under the care and management of Steve Watkins. P&O Ferries and the college have a good understanding and an increasingly strong working relationship that gives apprentices the foundations and theory to then go onboard vessels and work alongside existing teams.
The strength of the programme grows every year as more apprentices graduate and become P&O Ferries’ next generation of seafarers. Importantly, they are also there to guide and set an example to the new intake.
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 P&O’s apprenticeship programme. This is paying dividends in terms of retention and subsequent employment of ratings.
This kind of programme requires proper planning, a real determination and a pragmatic vision of what a future ratings workforce is going to look like. So far, the deck and engine apprentices that have been recruited in the UK work 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 a running a successful apprenticeship programme, P&O Ferries provides an excellent example of how it’s done and why.