Coming Ashore Episode 1 – Introduction

Posted on 6 March 2020 by Andrew Cowderoy

Andrew Cowderoy interviews Darrell Bate and Carla Rockson from the Marine Society. Carla is the Head of Seafarer Learning and Darrell, the Director of Seafarer Learning.

In this episode Darrell compares his career at sea in the merchant navy to his career ashore. Plus, Carla discusses the routes seafarers can take with Marine Society to help launch a career on land.

Would you rather listen? Listen on Spotify and ITunes or watch now on YouTube.

Click here to find out more about the Coming Ashore programme. Where you'll find professional guidance, mentorship and work experience opportunities for transitioning to a career on land. 

Andrew: Can you please explain your role at the Marine Society?

Carla: I'm the Head of Seafarer Education. I've been with the Marine Society for eight years now. So I've progressed in my role with the charity. I've worked my way up. My background wasn't in the maritime industry, it was more to do with training and development, continued professional development. I've had a great understanding of the development and progression of someone throughout their career, and I've got a great passion for what we do, supporting seafarers in their continuing professional development.

What attracted you to working particularly with the Marine Society and seafarers in particular?

Carla: It was more to do with the support, not knowing about the industry maritime until it was more to do with the support for seafarers in their education or training in progressing further?

Darrell: I'm relatively new. I joined the Marine Society only in August last year, and it's a new change from my background, which has mainly been in education training in the further education sector. But going way back, I started my career in the Merchant Navy, so I feel this is coming home in a sense, back to my roots.

Can you please share your seafaring background?

Darrell: It was fairly short-lived. I joined Cunard's steamship company as a deck cadet. In the eighties, very late seventies I trained down at Warsash, when it was at Warsash back in those days, college, nautical studies as was. I did the standard deck cadetship four-year sandwich program. I sailed on, a huge variety of vessels that Cunard had at the time, none of which, sadly, exist anymore. I then got my class three certificate, and so on, HNC Nautical Science, and then did a couple of trips as a mate, and then suffered the fate of so many people at the time, which was, we were all made redundant as a result of the flagging out that was going on in the eighties. So a lot of the British fleet was being flagged out by a foreign flag. And so it was a case of last in, first out. A lot of my colleagues, having trained at great expense by these companies, British companies, were just put out. And I did try to get back with a foreign flag, but I was up against the huge competition, people with more experience. And I quickly realized that the conditions were different. So going from a sort of four on two off to nine on, three off as a contract on less pay, it wasn't comparable. So yeah, that's when I made this decision to kind of come ashore and pickup.

Then, you've experienced a career at sea, you've gone through college as a cadet, you're now an officer and you're in this difficult position where you want to come ashore. How did you find that, setting a course to come ashore? Was, did you know where to look? Did you know what you wanted to do?

Darrell: Nope, no idea. Cunard gave me no guidance. It was asta la vista, I think, is the term, and it was just finding my own feet. And then interestingly, there was a company in the town where I lived in Kent, most bizarrely it was a ship operations company. And I just noticed the name. I thought that's funny and what's a shipping company doing in this part of the world? And so I just knocked on their door and found out that they were ship operators. And I can't remember how, but basically, they took me on as a sort of junior ship operator and I couldn't believe it. But when the first job they gave me was to operate a ship that I'd just come off with Cunard, it was the most bizarre thing. It was a reefer of frozen food. And so they were managing that particular charter. So I ended up being on the team that was managing those ships and speaking to the master who I'd sailed with not six months before.

How did you find that change from being at sea working with these colleagues and now you're sitting inside an office operating those vessels? I mean, that must be quite a challenge.

Darrell: Yeah, well certainly, I mean, I wasn't given full responsibility I was working with a small team and a very competent sort of manager, ship manager who sort of took me under his wing. And it was quite natural because everything was related to handling the cargo and sending out the message to the ship and planning the voyage and so on. All of which I've been involved with sort of seeing it from the sea on the ship side. I didn't feel like I was out of my depth. I picked it up pretty rapidly. I mean, some of the sort of legal aspects and the chartering side were new to me. I wasn't aware. So what I quickly did was enrolled with the ICS to do the chartered shipbroker exams, so I was going to night school up in London during that time, working towards those exams and subsequently got those and joined the ICS and so on and moved on from that.

Carla, can you give us a bit of a background to where the Marine Society is today, why it was established and what you're looking to do for the future?

Carla: Today we're supporting seafarers as much as we can through a range of educational programmes. That's what our history steeped in. It’s right through from basic functional skills, right through to postgraduate qualifications. We're supporting those in the Royal Navy as well as the Merchant Navy through different educational programmes. Because we engage with seafarers across the board, we are engaged in providing information, advice and guidance initially, and we have a matrix accreditation on that. And so we do see seafarers asking us these kinds of questions about progression to shore side roles, to other roles, generally. So it's something that we've always been doing and we wanted to formalize it because we'd heard seafarers tell us, "Oh, you know, I don't know where to go for the information. I'm coming to you." Or they'll get bits of information from all sorts of places and there's not one place that will pull all this information together. So we've thought that well if we're given support and information on this type of thing anyway for progression, let's formalize it and then publicize it. Our ethos is to support the professional and personal development of seafarers. That's what we do.

Can you elaborate on the sort of some of the examinations and the sort of what would be required in that course change, perhaps?

Carla: So concerning examinations, it depends on who the seafarer is, there's a vast variety of roles. No two seafarers are the same. So when a seafarer comes to us, we kind of assess what they want, what they need, and then where they carry on. We work a lot alongside colleges, other charities so that we can signpost them in the right direction of maybe a course provider or another charity that might be able to help, or even employers when they can get the help that they need. But we try to pull all of that information together so that we can help them. We also offer financial assistance. So there's that side of things as well where we're giving them financial support, too, to seafarers where possible and to a limit, to help them progress as well.

How did they start to understand where to get that information? Who do they speak to? Is there a dedicated portal or a person?

Carla: First and foremost, we suggested they kind of speak with their employer about what development opportunities are there to progress within the organization they're working for. If they cannot get sufficient advice or support from their employer, they will often come to the Marine Society website and say this is the situation I'm in, I need this qualification to progress. And so we will help as much as we can.

So first off, if there's somebody who's looking after they've gone through that process that you've just explained and they want to seek financial support, visit the Marine Society's website?

Carla: Yes And we can suggest if they want advice on where they can go to do a course or what's the next level of progression. We provide support there.

Darrell, can you elaborate more on the Coming Ashore programme?

Darrell: Interestingly, this is not a new initiative in the sense that it has been around for decades. I picked up a book the other day in the office called Coming Ashore by Michael Green dated 1980, so this has been discussed and written about for a long time, is what support is there for seafarers who want to come shore-side? What do they need to do, what roles are there, what training will they need, where do they go and so on? So it was instigated more recently in 2016 through a project school Ulysses that came out of UK maritime growth study, the basic accepted recommendation that they need to be far more support for seafarers coming ashore. So there were a lot of high-level buy-ins this Nautilus and MNTP and other big representative bodies, very much supporting. It was felt Marine society was the best charity to take this on. So fast forward to end of 2019 and, and we finally triggered the funding that we originally sought to get the project up and running. And what that funding will now enable us to do is to buy resources and whether through all channels, social media, online and face to face, that is going to be a sort of one-stop-shop for seafarers who are thinking of coming ashore. And you're giving them something tangible. So it won't just be advice online. It will be mentors in the professional industry. People who are willing to give their time and who, as you know, we're already sort of signing up commitment from and they're also going to release podcasts like this that will just give detail about their particular role, say, whether it's ship superintendence, port operative, chartering, legal, brokerage. And all of these aspects be covered in time. So what we're hoping is that seafarer contemplating a shore-side role will be able to come to us at the Marine Society and have support making that change over however long it takes them

There's no limit to the time that the Marine Society can provide support to seafarers coming ashore?

Carla: It's not about looking at the length of time, it's about providing them with the resource to get them to where they want to go because they won't want it long and drawn out, they'll want to have access to mentoring, courses or course providers, like an employment agency, work experiences, so on. So all of these different types of resources that can get them to where they want to be. We've found that it's not only those who have come to the end of their career at sea and want to transition to shore but now more of the younger generation don't want to spend as long a period at sea anymore. They've got young families, they want to change jobs more frequently so they may only stay at sea for five years rather than 30 years and then come ashore and find work shore side. So we're going to be dealing with a wider variety of seafarers, different levels of experience to support them to transition ashore.

So, that answers what I was about to ask next because many seafarers, yourselves, listening to this may be considering is the program right for me? I may be living in the Philippines or an American as an officer. So really you're saying that this program is open to absolutely everybody and free of charge, is that right?

Darrell: Absolutely. I mean what's the point about who it’s open to, I mean there's a perception, rightly or wrongly, that we're just targeting this at Master Mariners, Chief Engineers. So we need to be very clear that there will be an on boarding process which will be a series of questionnaires, questions that they will direct people to a particular route. So the outcome of the decision tree will say this is the best path.Then the software will determine the best path for you. So it will self-adjust to the guidance that comes out the other end, as it were. That's just the starting point because they haven't, then out of that will come the personal contact. There is, of course, an implication in that the project is funded initially for a year. So in terms of providing these facilities and resources and some of the training aspects that that has limited, we will hopefully move to a get more of a subscription model where we have partner organizations who stand to benefit from people coming ashore, or we will start to ask them to contribute to keeping the facility going. And implications are that they'd be very willing to do that because it's a win-win, but benefits to their organization.

Carla: There are many companies and sectors ashore that benefit usually from seafarers' experience into the shore side role. So they're looking out for the seafarers that are coming ashore. So it's really important. Plus we've got seafarers who know what they want to do when they come ashore and there's going to be some who don't know. They want to come ashore but they don't know what they want to do. So the decision tree will help them and point them in directions of consideration of possible roles that they can take up so that their skills from being at sea are not going to waste.

So for a seafarer coming ashore to be part of the program, there's not necessarily any cost. However, it is supported by the industry as a whole.

Darrell: Yeah. We don't want to put barriers. It's free at the point of entry and as... It will evolve, no doubt, in time but the need is so great out there that we don't want to be too selective at the moment. You know, we want to get the thing up and running and see what response we get and then tailor it from there.

Well now, exciting few months and years ahead of us for the Marine Society. Before we shoot off, before we finish off and, thank you both very much for your time. Carla and Darrell, both separately, if you had one piece of advice for a Seafarer, what would that be?

Darrell: What I would say is use the time in between trips abroad and use that leave time to train, to look at opportunities to try and scope out what opportunities there might be. Maybe visit an industry show. But just use that time to build up maybe your management skills or CV and so you're not just left with nothing ready, but you know, use that time productively. So it prepares you.

Carla: That's actually what I was going to say. No, that's excellent advice because you don't want to be starting from scratch at the point when you're ready to come ashore. So that's excellent advice about preparing yourself in small ways whilst you're still at sea, keeping your continued professional development up to date.

Andrew: Thank you very much. So In the coming months, there's going to be new videos coming live online and Instagram. Be sure to follow us and Subscribe on YouTube and the podcast channels wherever you are listening around the world.

For more information on the Marine Society's Coming Ashore program, please visit our Coming Ashore page.