New course is just the ticket for sea careers

Originally published in The Herald, 18/3/2008

Scotland is well known for its excellence in seamanship.

TEENAGERS have always been attracted by the sea, and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries boys as young as 11 and 12 regularly took to the ocean waves. Even as late as the Second World War it was common for young men to lie about their age and join the Merchant Navy, and many lost their lives in the perilous convoys across the Atlantic.

Nowadays, it is much harder to run away to sea, but a new course at Banff and Buchan College aimed at secondary pupils in second, third and fourth years may help budding seadogs crest the . rst wave of their careers.

Nautical - the Next Step has been developed by the college in response to a global shortage of quali. ed seafarers, but its location in the north east of Scotland is no accident. It will provide an opportunity for school leavers to develop professional seafaring careers despite the reduction in the number of boats in local . shing fl eets.

The north east's fleet has been severely depleted in recent years as the . shing industry has declined in the face of vanishing stocks and as the government's decommissioning scheme takes effect. Some communities in the north east such as Peterhead and Fraserburgh have been beset with social problems such as drugs misuse and unemployment.

"In these areas there are many families from fishing backgrounds, and Scotland is well known for its excellence in seamanship, " says Captain Sayed Shah, curriculum leader for nautical studies at Banff and Buchan College.

"These courses offer learners the chance to do all their training in three and a half years, whereas it might take eight years otherwise to get up to second mate or . rst mate. It is a very challenging and rewarding career which is available for any youngster. It is good to get more vocational education in schools, which they can then follow up at college."

The initiative, which offers vocational options for less academically inclined pupils, is in two parts. In the . rst part, the college engages second year pupils in short courses in seamanship and nautical studies. Those pupils who become interested in following a career at sea will then be able to take nautical studies as part of their third and fourth year curriculum in preparation for future studies.

The second part involves a four-year Deck Cadet training course, resulting in an SQA HND in Nautical Science.

Current college student Amar Khadka, 19, from Kirkwall in Orkney, is about to take his EDH (efficient deck hand) ticket and is hoping to find a place in a cadet scheme in one of Aberdeen's ocean rescue . rms.

Khadka says: "This 12 week course is excellent; it is a foot in the door. There is a lot of practical-based work combined with theory, so it's a good balance.

"We do things like chartwork and sea survival as well as deck hand duties. I did a week's introduction to sea careers in S4 at school, which I really enjoyed and I was keen to follow it up.

"After deckhand, the next stage is coxswain, then bo'sun, followed by officer of the watch, second mate, first mate then skipper and I'm hoping to achieve all that. The nautical courses are a great opportunity to get a foundation and a career at sea. A career at sea offers something a bit different, a chance to travel the world."

A modern career in seafaring is open to females, too. Kerry Calder, 16, from Elgin, is about to take the EDH exam. She says: "I wanted to do it because my older brother did it and he is now a coxswain with Nomis shipping. My uncle also works on the boats.

"The course is great, and they also give you help with applying for jobs, application forms and everything. I didn't really enjoy school but it is all different here. The teachers are very straightforward and the course is a good mix of practical and theory with, hopefully, a good job at the end of it."

The initiative has been developed with four Aberdeen-based emergency response and rescue vessel companies - Ocean Mainport Rescue, North Star Shipping, Vroon Offshore Services and Nomis Shipping - each of which will support four cadets financially and with work placements.

Bob Sinclair, principal of Banff and Buchan College, says: "The global shortage of trained mariners means that these programmes will offer great career opportunities with potentially a fantastic salary.

"It's not just a job for the young. This is a lifelong occupation because, after a career at sea there are further opportunities for work ashore as harbour masters and pilots, in marine insurance, and as maritime lecturers. These are all professions which traditionally relied on seafarers but which are all now facing staff shortages.

"I would encourage any young person, male or female, who doesn't mind hard work and is looking for a challenging yet rewarding career to think about this.

"This initiative is industry-led. We have developed the programmes following an approach from local shipping companies who were concerned about the skills gap the industry is facing. This course is about offering real training opportunities and real jobs for the young people of the north-east."

The course is approved by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Merchant Navy Training Board.

John Bryce, managing director of Ocean Mainport Rescue, says: "The Emergency Response and Rescue Vessel industry is an exciting and challenging sector to be involved in. Skills shortages are a serious problem which must be tackled head on if we are to retain the high standards of service and safety which are essential in all maritime industries."