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Skills4dover » News » DFDS celebrates apprenticeship programme in Seafarers' Awareness Week

DFDS celebrates apprenticeship programme in Seafarers' Awareness Week

With an estimated 95% of imports coming to our island nation by ship*, the maritime industry plays a significant role in the economy, yet figures show there’s been a substantial drop in seafarers ratings in the UK since the 1980s and attracting young people to join the industry has been particularly challenging**.

To help tackle the issue, maritime charity Seafarers UK is holding its 9th Seafarers Awareness Week (23-30 June), which will see a number of events promoting the maritime industry and the employment opportunities within. Each year the government chooses a new theme, with 2018 set to be the ‘Year of Engineering’.

DFDS launched its apprenticeship programme in 2012 to encourage young people in the South East of England to choose a career in the maritime industry. The programme is aimed at 17-24 year olds, with a Deck Scheme, Engine Scheme and Catering Scheme on offer to qualify as Able Seafarers, Marine Fitters and Maritime Caterers, respectively.

Fleet Technical Assistant at DFDS, Bernie Beale, has been working in the maritime industry for 21 years; “I first went to sea as a junior engineer. Over the last 21 years I have worked in various engineering roles both at deep sea and across the English Channel.

“In recent years I have been working with the apprentice intakes at DFDS, providing training and support. It’s important that we encourage young people in the area to consider this as a career that they can look forward to and grow in,” he continued. “I would advise any youngsters who are curious about the industry to try it. First-hand experience gives you a real sense of what it is like to be on board.”

To help young people in the Dover area do this, DFDS has been working with East Kent College to offer students work experience on board. Student Zoe Lawton, recently did just this. “I’m studying engineering at college and met DFDS at a local jobs fair earlier this year. The team on the stand were so helpful and got me really involved, so with the help of my college I did some work experience with them. I loved it and this September I will be starting an engineering apprenticeship with them.” When speaking of her future, the 16-year-old added “my aim is to become the first female Chief Engineer at DFDS”.

In 2017, DFDS was the first UK maritime company to recruit apprentices for a brand new maritime catering apprenticeship programme. Three new apprentices joined the scheme, making the most recent intake 12-strong.  Since the apprenticeship programme started in 2012, DFDS has seen two groups of deck apprentices and one group of engineering apprentices qualify and take up full-time jobs with the company this year and in 2019.

Gemma Griffin, Vice President of HR and Crewing at DFDS said “I am delighted to be involved in an initiative that not only provides career opportunities for local young people but also puts careers at sea on the map nationally. We are very proud of all our seafarer’s who work tirelessly to give great experiences to our customers whilst ensuring a safe and comfortable journey at all times. I am particularly proud that Bernie is passing the baton of 21 years’ experience over to Zoe as she starts what I hope will be a long and successful career at DFDS.”

DFDS’ apprenticeships are offered in partnership with the Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB), the shipping industry’s central body for promoting and developing sector-specific education and training skills.

The schemes last between 18 and 24 months and are aimed at 17 to 24 year olds with a minimum of Grade C Maths and English at GCSE level.

For more information on the apprenticeship schemes, visit

Notes to editors:

*figure provided by Sefarers UK

**Recent figures from Department of Transport show that more than 70% of ratings currently employed in the UK maritime sector are aged-40 or over. The number of UK seafarer ratings was 30,000 in the 1980s but currently stands at less than 9,000.

Gemma Griffin chairs the Employment Committee at the UK Chamber of Shipping. This sets the strategic direction on seafarers’ living and working conditions, equality, minimum wage, union relations, seafarer immigration, recruitment and training, occupational health and safety, human element, and standards of training. Gemma led the Employer Leadership Group in developing the standards for the trailblazer rating apprenticeships, matching industry requirements and the syllabus for deck, engine and catering departments.

DFDS offers three apprenticeship schemes; The Deck Scheme which sees students qualify as Able Seafarers, working in the deck department as a watchman and assisting with loading and unloading the ship; the Engine Scheme which works towards becoming Marine Fitters within the engineering team, responsible for maintaining and repairing the ships; and the new Catering Scheme which will see students qualify as Maritime Caterers, working as chefs in the ship’s galley to prepare the food served on board.

Seafarers UK is a charity that has been helping people in the maritime community for over 100 years, by providing vital support to seafarers in need and their families. Seafarers Awareness Week was launched in 2010 and runs every year in June. A list of events taking place to mark the week can be found through the following link: