When I started as a cadet here in 2012 after A-levels I had no background in shipping. I came across Merchant Navy cadetships when researching what to do next. I’ve since sailed globally as a deck officer responsible for driving large vessels for long periods. I came back on shore 3½ years ago as I wanted a steadier job - it’s mostly contract work in the industry. I applied for and got a lecturing job that came up at my old college at Fleetwood near where I live and I’ve been here ever since.
Most of the college staff are from the same industrial background and have been very supportive.
As programme leader I oversee the level 3 diploma course that splits into two groups, one catering for cadets training as deck officers and the other for those aiming to be engineering officers.
Our maritime operations course, which normally attracts around 40-50 students annually, leads directly to a merchant navy career. We give potential officers a basic introduction to the maritime industry (they may never have seen a boat before!) and then hopefully three years later they will have qualified as deck officers in charge of a navigational watch on any size of vessel in the world - or engineering officers ensuring a ship functions.
Cadets complete their training typically over five phases, which are spent at college and at sea. Phase 1 introduces cadets to the industry, which will see them complete a level 3 diploma over six months. Cadets will go to sea for up to six months in phase 2 before returning to college where they will complete a level 4 HNC over a nine-month period in phase 3. Phase 4 will be where the cadets return to sea to get the remainder of their required sea time (12 months required for deck officers, eight months for engineering officers). On completion, cadets return to college for phase 5 and spend around 12 weeks preparing for their external safety exams – on completion of this they are qualified MN officers. Some students choose to stay on an additional six months to achieve their level 5 HND, an academic qualification needed to progress up the ranks within the shipping industry.
The atmosphere is quite formal at college: cadets have to wear uniform at all times, including meals, and adhere to the Merchant Navy code of conduct (the UK’s set of rules within the commercial shipping sector). They address me as ‘sir’ although I wear a shirt and tie! Having said that, there is also great rapport between staff and students; I always ensure there is a bit of a bond between each class and their respective lecturers. The students live in on-site communal halls of residence and each has their own ‘cabin’ to give them a feel for the sort of regimen they’d find on a ship. I help them both academically and pastorally and (especially with the younger cadets who may not have lived away from home before) support them while they settle in and learn how to work on their own and with others.
As a lecturer at level 3 (diploma) and level 4 (HNC), I cover the academic (deck officer cohort) and practical sides of getting cadets ready for the real world of working on ships. It’s teaching them how to react and behave like a merchant navy officer, to understand the fundamental values of working at sea and to gain the skills to stay safe and do a competent job on board. To challenge myself, I’m constantly asking myself and my team how we as cadets would want to be taught now. The other half of my teaching time is spent delivering my specialisms in navigation, meteorology and equipment at HE level.
In March 2020, we switched to online teaching almost seamlessly and did not suspend any lessons. We used Microsoft Teams and it worked really well, although during lockdown we were unable to spend practical time in our campus workshop on skills such as turning, welding and pipe-fitting.
Potential desk officer cadets look first at the basics of the maritime industry (including parts of a ship, port, starboard, etc) and build on that. We cover much more than just ships, though, as we realise not all of our cadets will have long careers at sea but branch out to work in, say, marine law, salvage or shipyard operations. I focus a lot on navigation, so I develop their maths as a general skill so they can do navigational calculations and plot positions and draw courses on nautical charts. They learn by heart all the signals ships use at sea and we hammer home collision regulations (a maritime ‘highway code’) throughout the course. In health and safety I’ll discuss accident incidents around the world, eg the Suez Canal blockage by the container ship, Ever Given, in March this year. Estimates suggested at one time that that accident was holding up £9bn of trade a day.
There’s a heavy focus on electronic navigation (eg simulators and electronic charts) in a rapidly evolving industry, although we still look at traditional methods using sextants and charts. I take them outside with their sextants to ‘shoot’ the moon or sun, depending on time of day.
The engineering cadets also focus on maths but take specific engineering modules such as engineering vessel principles, how an engine works, different materials used within machinery, how heat affects machinery’s behaviour and understanding fuel.
Within the level 3 diploma, all cadets do short courses before going to sea. They must take a minimum set of safety courses before joining a ship’s crew, such as sea survival, first aid training and fire-fighting (very popular) plus other courses including boatmanship (driving lifeboats), using survival craft and rope work (tying knots and doing splices). We have a boating lake with a working lifeboat we can launch, and a fire ground with smoke galleries where cadets learn how to put out very real fires.
I start at 8-8.15am for the first lesson at 8.30 and can teach up to 5.30pm - potentially 3-5 slots daily of 90 minutes each. I also monitor how students are faring, liaise with parents, and work with companies that sponsor our cadets to provide placements on board their ships (similar to apprenticeships).
I hope to take our new level 3 students starting this September to the Lake District for a week of team bonding, where we’ll do activities including kayaking, hill walking, rock climbing and ghyll scrambling. We set off on only the second day of their course - we don’t hang about! We missed out last year.
The initial covid transition from face-to-face to remote learning as I rely on the live rapport I get with students. With 30 people online at the same time, that rapport is difficult to achieve. So the challenge has been motivating both my students and myself (I rely on bouncing ideas off the students).
The students I taught in my first year of teaching are now qualifying so it’s great to see them coming through.
A flexible approach to students, being industry-focused, and preferably being a seafarer first and then a lecturer - that really helps the students.
Industry experience and undergoing the right training. I took a level 3 diploma and then completed an HNC. Since starting here I have done an 18-month top-up degree in sustainable maritime operations one evening or more a week. When I joined Blackpool and The Fylde College, I took a level 5 diploma in education and training to get a teaching qualification, which the college delivered free and in-house one evening a week for 18 months.
What’s your motivation behind training marine cadets?
It’s just seeing my students progress and pass after a demanding course.