Advanced Apprenticeship in Marine Engineering
For young people who want to leave school after GCSEs, enjoy problem solving, are interested in science and maths and like taking a hands-on approach, an advanced apprenticeship in marine engineering at Berthon Boat Company offers first-class training and experience. Berthon currently employs 28 advanced apprentices, eight of them marine engineers, and sees them as the future of the marine industry.
‘We have got a brilliantly successful apprenticeship programme. We offer high quality training, with enthusiastic apprentices and positive outcomes – good people you want to employ in the future.’- Berthon Boat Company yard manager and former apprentice
Marine engineering advanced apprentices spend four days a week at Berthon’s headquarters in Lymington, Hampshire and attend Brockenhurst College one day a week, studying for City & Guilds and NVQ qualifications. Berthon takes on most of its apprentices at the end of their four-year training, with many progressing to senior roles within the company.
The apprenticeship typically suits those who leave school with GCSEs or are slightly older and want a new career direction. The company looks for applicants who like problem solving, enjoy learning about the technical aspects of boats and don’t mind getting their hands dirty. The company encourages those with ambition and management potential to progress up the career ladder once they’ve completed their apprenticeship.
Why do an apprenticeship at Berthon?
The apprentices we met at Berthon were adamant that they’d made the right decision. One said she’d found theory learning difficult at school but as soon as she had the chance to put what she’d learned into practice everything fell into place. Another apprentice told us that he was the first person in his family to learn a trade and that he had decided to train as a marine electrician because ‘I like fault finding. If something doesn’t work I want to find out why.’ He added that a couple of his friends had gone to university but he was more interested in ‘the bigger picture.’
‘I will be coming out of my apprenticeship at 21 with a job and an expected salary of £26,000 while my friends will have four years of debt.’- Berthon Boat Company apprentice
When we visited there was only one female apprentice but the management team are keen for more women to apply. ‘There is a massive skills gap in engineering and we are concerned that we are not tapping into 50 per cent of the population,’ they told us. ‘Engineering is a fantastic career but students, teachers and parents are not informed enough about the possibilities out there. We have always been a manufacturing country; we need to get the kudos back for engineering.’
What exactly do they do?
‘You gain confidence very quickly; it’s great working at something you like.’- Berthon Boat Company apprentice
After a two-week pre-apprenticeship course at nearby Brockenhurst College to help them become ‘work ready,’ the marine engineering apprentices begin8 by shadowing senior colleagues and performing simple tasks, such as cleaning components, getting trained in health and safety and learning to use equipment and machinery. As they progress, apprentices spend more time working on boats, taking engines out, servicing and refitting them. They frequently have to work on their own initiative. Each apprentice has a mentor but they are also encouraged to talk to college assessors and the company’s yard manager (who is in charge of the apprenticeship programme) if they experience any problems.
‘My door is always open. I don’t suffer fools gladly but they know that if they do things right I will back them up 100 per cent.’- Berthon Boat Company yard manager
‘They really grow up while they are here,’ said Berthon’s marine skills assessor. ‘The difference in maturity from when they start to when they finish is quite surprising. They have self discipline, they are far more self aware and they have specialised knowledge. The result is very gratifying.’
The apprentices’ hours are from 8am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday. They get half an hour for lunch, with most taking in their own sandwiches.
‘My parents are really pleased that I am going out and doing a proper job.’- Berthon Boat Company apprentice
The apprentices work at Berthon four days a week and attend Brockenhurst College’s marine technology site at Marchwood, next to Southampton Water, one day a week. There they study units like workshop practice and theory as well as functional skills English, maths and IT. Guided by college assessors, they work through their City & Guilds and NVQ portfolios. They gain level 2 qualifications (equivalent to GCSE) and level 3 (equivalent to A levels). A certain amount of written work is involved. They are assessed every six weeks and given regular appraisals. College is important. They have to pass the modules to progress as apprentices.
Life beyond the apprenticeship
More than 50 per cent of Berthon’s project managers are former apprentices themselves (a number of them trained at Berthon). Other apprentices have gone on to become team leaders, department heads and managers, both at Berthon and other marine companies across the UK and beyond. All tend to stay in the marine industry so it’s important to make sure that it really is where you want to be.
Who stays on at Berthon?
‘We take on the bulk of our apprentices.’- Berthon Boat Company
The company offers its apprenticeships on fixed-term contracts so there is no guarantee of a job at the end of the four-year training period. In reality though, most are offered jobs.
‘Sometimes there might not be a place available but over the last couple of years we have taken on 95 per cent of those we have trained. Everything depends on the aptitude they have shown, their attitude, timekeeping, how diligent they have been and their qualifications.’- Berthon Boat Company manager
Thanks to its rigorous assessment and high quality training Berthon apprentices are ‘pretty sought after,’ with some moving into the super yacht industry. ‘It’s the appeal of the travel,’ we were told. Others are promoted at Berthon, working their way towards supervisory or managerial roles. Further study is encouraged. One former apprentice turned trainee manager is now studying for a foundation degree in marine engineering and others told us they’d like to follow suit.
Pay, perks and play
An apprentice recently got the chance to take part in the Dubai to Muscat sailing race while another is off to the Caribbean to crew for one of Berthon’s customers.
First year apprentices earn £9,360 a year, rising to £16,640 during their final year, and get 29 days holiday. They don’t have to pay college fees. Work gear – navy polo shirts, overalls, steel-capped boots and all PPE (personal protective equipment) – is supplied.
Six apprentices took part in the company’s Grey Wolf project, helping to sail a 64ft motor yacht called Grey Wolf from New Zealand to Guernsey. The apprentices had to apply for the chance to sail one of the six legs – ‘we chose the individuals it would make most difference to,’ said the company. ‘It’s an amazing experience for them and they are writing blogs for the company website.’ A 19-year-old who had only been with the company for seven months couldn’t believe his luck at being chosen to join the Azores to Guernsey leg. ‘I didn’t expect to get a chance like this,’ he told us.
The company also encourages apprentices to speak at schools’ STEM events. A 21-year-old on the verge of completing his training had recently spoken about apprenticeships to the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights in London as part of its ‘Ark Appeal’ to fund more apprenticeships in the marine industry.
Berthon understands, appreciates and values its apprentices and sees an apprenticeship as an ideal route to working in the marine industry. It also regards apprenticeships as a vital way to ensure that the company has the skills it needs for the future. The company’s yard manager described the apprenticeship route as ‘invaluable.’ He once took on a graduate with an MSc in marine engineering but found that they had ‘loads of theory, but no practical knowledge.’ He added: ‘I would have been better off taking on an additional apprentice.’
Is a marine engineering advanced apprenticeship at Berthon for you?
If you are hands-on, like getting stuck in and enjoy problem solving then this apprenticeship could be for you. The apprentices we spoke to enthused about the best bits of the job, from getting the chance to deliver boats to customers to taking part in sea trials on the Solent – ‘the worse the weather and the bigger the waves the better,’ said one. The least appealing parts of the job are apparently bilge cleaning, tank removal and pressure testing. ‘There’s a lot of diesel,’ we were told. ‘You get very dirty.’ Not that sailing or interest in sailing is a prerequisite for the job; indeed those who want a life on the ocean waves may find a Berthon apprenticeship doesn’t quite fit the bill as apprentices mainly work onshore. The company’s marine skills assessor told us that a love of the sea doesn’t mean you’re necessarily suited to a marine engineering career.
‘You have to understand processes and principles. Aptitude, a methodical approach and technical understanding are key.’- Marine skills assessor for Berthon Boat Company
Apprentices must be personable, able to work as part of a team and have good communication skills. When customers visit the company the apprentices often meet them and must be able to talk about their work informatively and courteously.
Most apprentices are from within 20 or 30 miles of Lymington though current apprentices include one who moved from Bolton to do his training and another from Pembrokeshire. It doesn’t matter where you are currently living if you are prepared to relocate and can afford to do so. The company doesn’t offer a relocation package or any additional financial help to its apprentices though the yard manager said: ’We make sure there is a support network before making any job offer.’
Marine engineering apprentices need a minimum of five GCSES at grades A*-C, including Bs or above in English and maths, plus resistant materials or a relevant science. Similarly, those wanting to become marine electrician apprentices must have five GCSES at grades A*-C, including Bs or above in maths and English, plus a technology or science subject. The company says it has to be confident that applicants can cope with the college aspect of the apprenticeship as well as the job itself. ‘Our baseline requirements are important,’ said the yard manager. ‘If you have an E for maths then you are not going to be an engineer or electrician.’ Most applicants come straight from school or college at 16 or 17 but some are slightly older, either because they want a career change or have done a degree and realised they have gone down ‘the wrong route.’
Aptitude, a methodical approach and technical understanding are key and are tested as part of the selection process. Applicants are also expected to demonstrate a passion for the work, a strong aptitude for problem solving, attention to detail and good communication skills. Berthon is keen to recruit young people who show interest and enthusiasm for their chosen trade. You might have an interest in boats, fixed your bike, taken a car engine apart or be able to talk knowledgeably about an engineering project you’ve done at school, college, as part of a hobby or work experience. Previous work experience at Berthon or another manufacturing environment is invaluable. Sailing experience is not essential (keen sailors will mostly have to sail in their own free time).
The application process
Online application: Apply online via the Berthon website, Brockenhurst College or the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS). The company likes to see a good covering email too. They advise: ‘Use a spell check, don’t use text language or start with “hi mate.”’ Courtesy and manners are important from the outset. The company receives around 400 applications a year for the apprenticeships on offer so it’s highly competitive.
Assessment, trade test and interview: Those with appropriate qualifications are invited to an assessment and trade test at Brockenhurst College, Berthon’s training provider. The test is a 45-minute practical task where candidates are asked to rebuild a winch or similar. Applicants who show promise but aren’t quite ready for an apprenticeship can (if they wish) take a year-long performing engineering operations (PEO) course at the college – though you won’t get paid for doing it. About a fifth of Berthon’s current apprentice cohort have completed this type of course. ‘After doing the PEO they are better placed for work,’ said the company’s marine skills assessor.
Formal interview: Around four applicants per apprentice position are then invited to Berthon’s Lymington headquarters for a formal interview. ‘We ask what they know about the company, why they want to be an apprentice, why should we choose them?’ said the yard manager, who is in charge of recruitment. ‘I know that not everybody is confident so we try and guide them through the interview.’ His advice is: Do your homework, find out about the job and the company, look presentable (no shorts for the interview) and ideally bring along an engineering project or at least be able to talk about one.
‘We want the best candidates so you have to sell yourself.’ - Berthon Boat Company yard manager
Berthon Boat Company Ltd is a family business dating back to 1877. Based in Lymington, Hampshire, it services, repairs and refits private yachts – from fitting new decks and electronics systems to painting and maintenance – and currently builds highly sophisticated RNLI Shannon class lifeboats.
The company employs 150 staff and over the years has trained generations of skilled marine engineers and electricians, shipwrights, painters and riggers. They are determined to ensure that marine skills are maintained throughout the industry and so take on around eight advanced apprentices a year. Berthon’s apprenticeship programme has been widely praised and the company has twice been named as the medium employer of the year at the National Apprenticeship Awards.
Berthon operates from a modern, state-of-the art factory in Lymington, complete with luxury yachts having their sterns revarnished, composite RNLI lifeboats and a traditional wooden sailing boat undergoing restoration that is used to train apprentice shipwrights in traditional skills.
The company has its own 280-berth marina next to the factory, filled with gleaming yachts and boats. There is also a yacht sales and brokerage division, with offices in Lymington, France and the US.
If you like the sound of working at Berthon but aren’t sure about pursuing a career in marine engineering, the company offers other apprenticeships, including roles as marine electricians, shipwrights, painters/sprayers and marina operatives/boatmovers.
How do I find out more?
The company runs an open evening for prospective apprentices and their parents in February each year (details on the Berthon website). The Berthon team also gives regular presentations about its work at local schools and colleges and offers numerous work experience placements.