Taking the high seas to high schools – and beyond
We still have work to do in educating young people about shipping, but a campaign that brings seafarers into classrooms and careers fairs is growing in popularity and has been nominated for a major award that recognises its efficacy.
Over 310 volunteers are currently involved in the Careers at Sea Ambassadors campaign, which provides information about careers in the Merchant Navy to schools and careers fairs across the UK. The volunteers, all of whom are current or former serving seafarers, are able to share their personal experiences with would-be mariners, and aim to raise awareness of maritime industry and the career prospects it offers.
What is more, the scheme is growing rapidly. Ambassador visits more than quadrupled in the first two years of the campaign, from just 23 visits in 2015 to 109 in 2016. It looks likely that this figure will be exceeded this year – Ambassadors have already made 88 visits during the first four months of 2017 and the number of requests for visits looks set to surpass last year’s figure too.
The campaign’s success has led to its being nominated for the ‘Effective Voice’ award at this year’s International and European Association Awards in Vienna. But more importantly, Careers at Sea Ambassadors say the scheme is having a positive impact on prospective seafarers.
“I think it’s really effective at providing young people with careers advice and opportunities in a career that spans the world – some of the amazing skills you learn, the tuition that you can have paid for,” says Graham Fisher, a Trinity House deck cadet, who has been a Careers at Sea Ambassador for over a year now.
Graham usually visits schools about once a fortnight and sometimes has multiple visits in a week, especially during the busy time between October and April. The reception, he says, is usually good and the scheme is breaking ground.
“Some schools you get few people who will come and speak to you, but then at other schools – like the one I visited in Liverpool last week – a countless number of people will come and speak to you. It really just varies, but we get quite a good number,” he says.
“There’s always one or two who are really engaged and really thinking about it, and you feel like you’ve made a difference to that person’s life – especially when they’re thinking about their options after school or a career change,” says Graham. “Even if it’s just one person, who you speak to for ten minutes, you feel like you’ve made a positive difference.”
The jobs market can be challenging for graduates and school-leavers, and tuition fees are becoming increasingly expensive, which is making maritime careers more and more appealing to a wider range of people.
“I’ve never had to pay a penny for my tuition,” says George Belcher, who is about to complete a foundation degree in Marine Engineering at South Shields Marine School and visits schools as a Careers at Sea Ambassador. “I’m 25 now, but my friends who went to university have about £30,000 in debt and maybe no job and are now asking me about a Merchant Navy career!”
George says that being “virtually guaranteed” a job after maritime college has made a job at sea particularly attractive for 16- to 18-year-olds, especially those who haven’t decided on whether they want to go to university. “You learn while you’re earning,” he says.
Graham agrees. “A career at sea is so rewarding and at the same time you can get almost guaranteed employment, you can get your tuition paid for, you can get some amazing transferable skills taught by industry experts – there aren’t a lot of opportunities like that out there,” he says. “Speaking to young people about the opportunities, it really does make them think how it could be for them in later life.”
That being said, the scheme’s Ambassadors say they still have to battle against students’ lack of understanding about how shipping and trade works. Confusion between the Royal and Merchant navies is another barrier.
“When someone asks you what you do and you say you work in the Merchant Navy, people automatically assume you’re part of the Royal,” says Graham. “I’ve spoken to a lot of young people and maybe only one or two know what the Merchant Navy is and how reliant the UK is on the Merchant Navy. People are always amazed at how vital it is to the economy and people’s lives.”
The Ambassador scheme is also helping to shift people’s perception of what makes a seafarer, according to Emily Fowles, a third engineer officer in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA).
“I recently took part in a presentation to primary-aged children where they had to ask yes or no questions to guess my occupation, and they weren't even close. As I walked back into the room with a spanner, wearing a hard hat, the children were stunned,” Emily says.
“I am a female engineer and I work on ships, at sea, away from home. It is just so amazing to see young people breaking down stereotypes and learning about opportunities that they didn't even know existed,” she continues.
Careers at Sea helped Rachel Arnold, a third officer with Celebrity Cruises, find out more about jobs in the Merchant Navy – but it took meeting a female cadet to convince her she was on the right path.
Rachel says she first became interested in working onboard ships while on a family cruise aged 14 and began her career research as soon as she got home. The Careers at Sea website was the first result that came up on Google when she searched for information on how to become a deck cadet.
“By going through the website and reading about it, I started getting so excited – I mean, I was only 15 at the time – I was reading all of this information thinking ‘Wait, this is an actual job that I can do?’” Rachel says.
But although her heart was set on a seafaring career, Rachel says she still had some reservations that, as a self-described “girly-girl”, she wouldn’t be the right “type” of girl for the role. Meeting a female cadet at Warsash Maritime Academy’s open day showed her that she had nothing to worry about.
The internet is a powerful tool in promoting maritime careers, but, as Rachel’s story shows, personal interaction makes an invaluable impact on would-be seafarers. Careers at Sea has a big online presence and promotes Ambassador visits to schools through its social media channels, but it’s meeting with students and jobseekers that is really making a difference – even to the Ambassadors themselves.
“Even if I only inspire one person to undertake a career at sea then I feel like I have made a difference,” says Emily Fowles, “because I have also explained to a lot of people that we are an island nation that relies on shipping so greatly that we have come to take it for granted.”