Encouraging young people in the Netherlands to consider shipbuilding as a career can be challenging. There are so many other alternatives available. But at Damen Maaskant Shipyards Stellendam they are getting results by taking a new approach to training new recruits and working directly with local schools.
DMSS used to run its own in-house training programme for school leavers but it was difficult to integrate it into the yard, particularly as the workforce was too busy building vessels to have the time to share their knowledge and experience. Eventually that programme was wound down. However, for the past three years Eric Moerkerk, managing director of DMSS, has been operating a new training initiative that takes a different approach and has been much more successful.
A warm welcome
The new program has two main elements. The first is to focus on making the young men, and the majority of the trainees so far have been men, feel welcome and valued. They are after all the future of the yard. The second is to give them time to learn, rather than trying to get them into the yard as quickly as possible.
The first group has now completed its course and the young people are now working full time in the shipyard as fitters and in other roles. Having been instructed by teachers who are experienced foremen approaching retirement, they have joined the yard confident that they have skills that will allow them to support their colleagues and so add value. Of the initial ten, five have successfully completed the training period. For the others, some decided that a career in shipbuilding was not for them while a few were not able to meet the necessary standards needed to work in such a demanding environment. “It can be a tough and noisy place to work and they need to be prepared for it,” says Eric Moerkerk, “and the three-year programme does just that.”
“I firmly believe that if we want to encourage school leavers to explore the opportunities that can come from a career in shipbuilding, we have to take the initiative and reach out to them and show them what a fulfilling choice it can be and not complain about kids’ lack of interest,” continues Eric Moerkerk. “It is up to us to generate enthusiasm and give them the confidence to take the next step.”
Instead of waiting for applicants to come to them, DMSS is going to where the young people are. Attending open days at local secondary schools is a great way to get the message across that there is so much more than just welding steel when it comes to shipbuilding. This also builds on word-of-mouth. A significant number of new apprentices know people who already work in the shipyard, and so having the opportunity to chat to DMSS personnel at their schools can be a big help in encouraging them to take the next step.
The yard also runs a scheme where young people aged 14 and 15 can come in on Saturday mornings to do cleaning and then have an hour and a half to use non-hazardous equipment for their own hobbies. This opportunity to familiarize themselves with the yard has encouraged a number of them to join the training programme once they are old enough.
“After three years we now have around 18 young people including two girls in our in-house training programme and we are very pleased with the results,” says Eric Moerkerk. “The yard funds it from its own resources and we consider it money well spent given how vital it is to attract and recruit the shipbuilders of tomorrow.”