Thursday, 31 January 2019

Where are our young recruits?

Four years ago Seafarers UK ran a recruitment campaign. Seafarers Awareness Week highlighted 'Opportunities to Work at Sea' - promoting education, training and recruitment services leading to employment in the maritime industry.  To showcase some of the job options available, Seafarers UK produced five films which feature young people embarking on a career at sea. This compilation shows short versions of all five films, introduced by Anshie Patel from the Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology (IMarEST):

  • Seafarers Cruising to Success - Royal Caribbean Cadet Robert Mackin-Lang aboard Anthem of the Seas
  • On the High Seas - The Merchant Navy - Officer Cadet Georgia Atkins studying at Warsash Maritime Academy
  • A Life Without Limits - The Royal Navy - Engineering Trainees Beatrice Ramoala and Aaron Adam training onboard HMS Northumberland
  • Super Jobs on Superyachts - Tom Clegg, superyacht engineer and Jamie Guerreiro, superyacht trainee talk about their roles
  • The New World of Workboats - Jack Owen, a trainee with Holyhead Towing Company talks about the emerging role of workboats.
Today, Warsash Academy tweeted about an open day being held tomorrow.

Noticeable by its absence, the fishing industry did not get its own video despite providing 1000s of seagoing jobs.

The fishing industry is facing a crisis that will not manifest itself to day but have the greatest impact in a generation to come. Right now, as can be seen during programmes about the industry like Fish Town, increasing numbers of boats are left with no apparent alternative but to employ foreign nationals to crew their boats.  Some Scottish and Irish vessels are crewed almost exclusively by Philipino and African crews which means that individual fishing business continue to function. 

But what of the future in 10 or 20 years time when the current crop of skippers and others retire? Without recruiting British crews willing to gain certificates of competence like the Watchkeepers or Skippers Certificates who will be the mates, skippers, relief skippers, engineers and watchmen of the future?

This problem isn't just an issue for the fishing industry of course. Many vocations and professions that require workers to deal with harsh environments, unsociable hours, heavy practical skills and a go-get attitude that necessitate hours days or even weeks spent out of the comfort zone are proving increasingly difficult to staff.  In particular, Further Education colleges have noticed that since the Millennium students demonstrate a culture of entitlement whereby the best jobs, the 'easiest' and the 'top' jobs are there for the taking simply as a result of having signed up to a particular course without having to graft and participate in all those menial and mundane tasks that every form of employment has an element.

We need Secondary & Further Education, the careers service, individual employers and employment organisations to reach directly into our schools, colleges and minds of the young supported by positive and informative TV and Web programmes. These initiatives need to truly inspirational showcasing every kind of employment and career opportunity available - not just the seemingly 'glamourous' posts. For example, seafaring is almost unique in the kinds of demands it makes on creating hugely rewarding team operations and the life-affirming job satisfaction that this brings to the workplace.

Initiatives like this series of videos below, funded for the Dorset Coastal Forum by their local FLAG are all well and good and to be commended but if the country is to address the wider problem it needs something more coordinated than just a few isolated regional videos - however appealing they may be!  In the coming months (whatever Brexit brings us) Through the Gaps will be looking to canvas thoughts, ideas and views on where we go from here - or even currently prosperous ports may well be finding a viable future for fleets, family businesses and severely constrained by recruitment issues that require long-term rather than short fixes.

In the meantime, enjoy these videos celebrating an inshore industry career in terms of both financial and emotional rewards. These are small stories in the grand scheme of things but highlight the diversity and richness of seafaring opportunities throughout the UK coastline.

First up is Sam Shuker, a 17 year old trainee commercial fisherman takes us out on a scallop boat from Lyme Regis and tells it like it is. He works long hours, determined to get as much experience as he can ready for the day when he is old enough to skipper a boat himself. Despite having all his fisherman tickets, Sam is also going to train to be a commercial diver, so that he can hand dive for scallops. He talks about the importance of the marine reserve for his fishery. He's seen first-hand the ups and downs his fisherman father has gone through so he knows he's chosen one of the toughest careers out there. But he loves the sense of freedom fishing brings. He says 'the opportunities I have - it's so much more than a job, it's something I live for. I am determined to fight for it and if I have to rebuild it.'

Next, the fisherman chef Ashley Stones - an inspirational story of how one commercial fisherman affected, like so many, by quotas has found a way to make it work. For several years Ashley lived the dream. He tells us 'I spent all my weekends and school holidays fishing - I absolutely loved it I couldn't get enough of it. After college I went into catering but it was the fishing I wanted to do. I decided to jack in my proper job and turn my hobby into a career." He's passionate that rod and line fishing is sustainable and describes how quotas rocked his friends and colleagues in the Weymouth bass fleet. He has managed to keep fishing, catching less fish (under quota) but using his entrepreneurial and cheffing skills to add value to the fish he catches.

Not everyone wants to fish but that shouldn't stop anyone with an interest in fishing seeking related career opportunities like Ruth Hicks. She's their fisheries observer, says 'people are surprised when she says she's been out on a fishing trawler for a week, but more and more women are coming into the job now'. They follow her working on a fisheries science partnership, with fisherman Mark Cornwell and his crew, out of West Bay, (Bridport) looking at an issue - the discard ban, which could seriously impact the livelihoods of many small fisherman - especially those in mixed fisheries like Mark. It's a fascinating story and as Liseve, Ruth's co worker says ‘there's a lot fishermen can teach us and working together we get the best blend of information and knowledge and sharing.’ In this case if, the scientific data proves what the fishermen are saying anecdotally -then there's a chance for a win all round - including the fish!

It'a not just the catching sector that appears to be suffering from changes in the markets. Tescos, the UK's largest supermarket chain announced the closure of 90 fresh produce counters which includes wet fish counters this week.  However, it has to be noted that this is against a backdrop of ever-increasing competition from the likes of Lidl and Aldi.  Emma McKeating, @GirlyFishMonger and posts on her blog about the wet fish trade recently posted with the headline, 'Why the fishing Industry affects us all' - it is this appreciation of the industry that can be tapped into in creating a professional outward looking industry of the future based on sound training and education at all levels driven by clear career and aspirational goals.

Watch this space!