Feats of engineering

Marine engineers are in demand in an industry that offers a wide and varied range of careers

With close to 200,000 people with engineering skills needed each year up to 2024 in the UK according to careers website Prospects, those looking to put technical and problem-solving knowledge and skills to good use are in demand.

This is certainly true of the maritime sector, where engineering plays a crucial role in keeping a marine economy afloat. With jobs available both ashore and at sea, marine engineers focus on the design, construction, installation, operation, maintenance and repair of the machinery, systems and engines that keep the seaborne fleet moving.

Marine engineers might work onboard vessels, offshore installations, on the UK’s military ships, or in ports in a career that encompasses a variety of different disciplines, including structural, mechanical and electronic engineering.

Whatever sort of role a would-be engineer is looking for, the maritime industry is likely to have it. Nowhere is this truer than in the UK, where 95% of the country’s international trade moves through its ports. And with 2018 the UK government’s designated Year of Engineering, there’s no better time for those interested in working in this field to consider making their career in the maritime sector.

A fulfilling working life

After Zoe Stock, now an engineer for Princess Yachts in Plymouth, was made redundant from her job at an electrical firm, she heard about an open day at the company on the radio and decided to go along. That initial visit led to her joining the organisation as a Grade 3 Engineer, and she now works on a boat line at one of the shipyard’s six sites in Plympton in northeast Plymouth, fitting out luxury yachts.

“If I’d known now about the engineering careers available in the marine sector, I would have joined years ago,” she says. “I wish I had [been in the marine sector] from the start, really, but it’s better late than never.”

Ms Stock’s work on the boat line offers a multitude of different opportunities and learning experiences. “One minute you can be on the flybridge, next minute you can be on a pre-build, so you learn a bit about everything.”

Clarissa Lille-Barkes works on the same boat line as Ms Stock. She is in the fourth year of an apprenticeship at Princess Yachts, having joined the company after completing a two-year engineering course at college. She was given a vision of life as an engineer at the company when she visited the company on a stand at an open day at her college, where ex-apprentices were on hand to talk about the options available for engineers at the firm.

“That gave me an insight before I actually applied – it helped me decide that that was the kind of the job I wanted to do,” she recalls.

For Ms Lille-Barkes, knowing that apprentices work on an empty hull of a boat and fit it out with everything required was what attracted her to the apprenticeship. She notes that “your work becomes someone else’s pride and joy”.

“To anyone considering an apprenticeship in engineering, I’d say: give it a go,” she comments. “You never know if you like something until you try it. Princess even offers work experience weeks during the summer, so anyone can give engineering a bit of a trial-run.”

Assisting naval forces

Capt Stuart Peters is the operational support manager for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service (RFA). A qualified Chief Engineer Officer, he is based in Bristol working in the Defence Equipment & Support organisation. The RFA is a UK government-owned and managed civilian-manned flotilla of 13 ships that allows Royal Navy vessels to maintain operations across the globe. He began his career as a junior engine room rating and worked his way up the ranks on the mechanical side of the organisation before training to become an engineer.

He explains that RFA engineers are truly helping to ensure the UK’s safety and security. The RFA is now much more involved with core naval tasking and the ships are fitted with weapons to be used in self-defence which are maintained by the ship’s engineering staff.

Capt Peters is enthusiastic about the opportunities engineering offers and explains how work in this field can have an important humanitarian aspect: “You get the excitement of going somewhere new and then you get to help out in something like the Ebola crisis – how much more worthwhile can you get?” he says.

Developing port infrastructure

Tony Parker, a Chartered Civil Engineer, is director of Engineering at Shoreham Port, working on developing the port’s infrastructure and facilities to keep pace with the port’s fast rate of expansion. He has enjoyed a varied engineering career. Before undertaking a five-year Structural Engineering course at university, Mr Parker spent three years working for a civil engineering contractor that focused on land sites around the UK’s coastline and estuaries. After university, he moved into international engineering consultancy, specialising in maritime and designing and constructing marinas, ports, waterside developments and coast-defence systems.

“I have always had an attraction to the sea – I live near it and sail on it for pleasure — and working in the maritime sector enables me to add fulfilling Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s vision of harnessing the great forces of nature for the benefit and use of mankind to my nautical affinities,” he says.

“Although engineering is a huge and diverse sector of the economy with careers to suit a wide variety of people, there are shortages of skilled personnel in all areas. All you need to find a career in engineering is a practical bent, a hard-working, diligent and enthusiastic outlook, and a determination to achieve.”

Though Mr Parker notes that becoming a Chartered Civil Engineer requires a significant number of years of study and intense development, he explains that “there are a huge range of opportunities in engineering and most of them are not so academic”.

“Here at Shoreham Port, for instance, we have qualified tradesmen and technicians, apprentices and general operatives with a wide variety of skills and abilities and a broad range of academic achievement,” he says.

Getting recruits on board

That said, the UK is in the midst of a skills-gap when it comes to filling jobs for people with engineering skills. The UK government’s Year of Engineering campaign, taking place this year, serves as a year-long mission to tackle this shortfall and increase the amount of young people joining the sector.

“Engineering is facing a big challenge regarding how to make itself attractive to the younger section of the population as a career of choice,” says Captain David Smith — who is head of the RFA’s Marine Engineering Specialisation. “There is an apparent and significant ignorance of the opportunities that exist among parents and careers teachers.  When coupled with the drift away from choosing the science and maths-orientated subjects in favour of less science-based subjects, this has resulted in too few people applying for jobs within the profession over the last decade.

“The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) ambassadors scheme, of which I am a willing participant, seeks to address this and several big engineering companies and organisations are involved in it.”

Capt Smith believes that engineers haven’t “trumpeted” the importance of what they do enough, noting that engineering is not a 9-to-5 role and “it is certainly not boring”. “Successes in maths and science are not something to be afraid of. We want to get the message out to young people that engineers make the world go around.

“Britain has a rich history in engineering with the likes of Brunel, Charles Parsons, James Watt, Alexander Graham Bell and more recently the likes of James Dyson contributing to our engineering success” he says.

Shoreham Port’s Mr Parker adds that digitalisation, climate change and globalism are starting to inspire a period of very fast change for the UK maritime sector, and that development of the country’s “ageing infrastructure” must “keep pace”.

“The big challenge for engineers in the maritime sector is to drive developments in our ports and on our vessels to keep pace with a rapidly-changing world,” he says.

With so much radical change set to hit the UK maritime industry, alongside the fact that the country’s engineering field is crying out for new recruits, it seems like an ideal time for those interested in a marine engineering career to jump on board. 

Source: Maritime UK, 5 March 2018

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