Thank you for inviting me to speak today (19 October 2016).
And thank you to the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights for organising what’s set to be yet another successful series of lectures and presentations.
Livery companies like this one were a fundamental part of the evolution of trades; embodying, codifying, and verifying the skills without which the highest standards could not be achieved
The role that they undertake has changed through the years, since the Shipwrights was founded over 700 years ago.
But they still play a vital role in providing shape and character to trades and skills.
As a former minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong learning, I have a deep appreciation for apprenticeships and the value of practical learning.
I am personally proud of the role I played in helping businesses create more apprenticeships than modern Britain has ever seen.
It was a mission shaped in opposition as shadow minister and delivered in government when I stepped from the shadows to the light.
It was, in no small part, inspired by what apprenticeships symbolise: the passing-on of skill from one generation to the next, proof that learning by doing is just as demanding and praiseworthy as learning from a book.
Everyone gathered together in this room today has a great and historic responsibility.
On your shoulders rests Britain’s future as the world’s leading maritime nation.
If, 100 years from now, we are still to be famous as the country that builds, repairs and maintains the finest vessels that sail the seas; if we are still to be renowned as the home of shipbuilding genius and skill; and if we are still to be celebrated as the nation that leads the world’s maritime affairs, it will be because those in this room today seized the opportunity to learn, to train, and to excel at everything you do.
No one should overlook the importance of your task – of carrying on our country’s tradition of maritime achievement, innovation and leadership.
So I am honoured to speak with you today.
This is the second time I have been appointed Minister for Shipping.
Once by David Cameron, and once by Theresa May.
And both times it has been thrilling to meet and work with the people whose roles are the foundation of our economy and even our way of life.
Yet there’s something about the way people talk and think about maritime sector in this country that I’d like to see change.
And that’s the perception among the general public that this sector’s greatest achievements are in its past.
I understand the pull of our maritime past.
I grew up in the shadow of Woolwich dockyards, which were for hundreds of years the shipping workshop of the world.
Yet for all the glories of the past, if we allow them to obscure the triumphs of the present and the future, we’re letting the industry down.
It simply isn’t true that the sector’s greatest achievements are behind us.
Just as the film at the beginning demonstrated.
The UK is a major global shipbuilder, producing life-saving rescue boats, science-shaping polar research ships, world-beating naval vessels including aircraft, autonomous surface and underwater vehicles, and our cutting-edge superyachts – some of which I had the pleasure of admiring during my visit to the Southampton Boat Show a few weeks ago.
All of these drive innovation every bit as advanced as the work that goes into driverless car technology, drones and spacecraft.
And so often, it’s the maritime sector leading the march of new technology.
Of course, we also export these cutting-edge craft around the globe, generating £2.5 billion a year for our economy.
And it’s for these reasons that we want to see more people joining you.
We want to see more people starting careers in the marine and maritime industry and being trained to the highest standards.
I would like to recognise and applaud the marine industry’s creation of apprenticeships in advanced systems engineering, boatbuilding and for mechanical and electrical fitters.
Apprenticeship standards like these set the bar for what employers need from their apprenticeship programmes, making sure they are high quality, relevant and responsive to the needs of the industry, which all in turn supports you in embarking on highly successful careers in the marine industry.
And when that training is completed, there are great opportunities.
Yet we want to see more of the economic growth that generates those opportunities.
So one of my roles is to serve as the Chairman of the Ministerial Working Group for Maritime Growth.
This team of ministers has been established to maintain and enhance the UK’s position as a leading maritime centre.
We’re currently focusing on increasing exports to China, Korea and Brazil, securing inward investment, reforming the UK Shipping Register and developing a maritime skills strategy.
And, tomorrow, I am travelling to Birkenhead and Liverpool, with its justly earned reputation as a maritime cluster of global significance.
There I will open a new Simulation Suite, the most advanced bridge simulator in Europe.
And, of course, the £200 million polar research ship RSS Sir David Attenborough is currently being built in Birkenhead.
The boat is perhaps better known as the vessel the online voting public wanted named Boaty McBoatface.
There’s a lesson in that tale for all politicians: don’t ask the public a question to which you might not like the answer.
When the RSS Sir David Attenborough sets sail in 2019, it will provide the UK with the most advanced floating research fleet in the world, and its construction in Merseyside is supporting 400 jobs and 60 apprenticeships.
And, I am quietly pleased to say, the name Boaty McBoatface will live on as the title of one of RSS Sir David Attenborough’s high-tech, remotely operated on-board submarines.
These developments, and others, reflect the UK’s strengths and our ability to compete with the world.
Yet as I said at the beginning, all of these plans come to nothing without talented people able to make good on the government’s ambitions.
And that means we need you, gathered here today.
So thank you for everything you do in your working lives as you lead a new generation of British shipbuilding excellence.
Before I relinquish the stage, I am delighted to hand over to Molly Ransom and Adam Hall, both recently graduated as Pendennis Shipyard apprentices, for a presentation which will illustrate a little of just how they are going about shaping the exciting future of this industry.
Molly Ransom has recently graduated from an engineering apprenticeship at Pendennis Shipyard in Falmouth, Cornwall.
During her 4 year course, Molly was awarded Apprentice of the Year in her second year, and has now progressed to a full-time role in the technically challenging environment of superyacht engineering.
Her colleague, Adam Hall, also graduated this year, becoming a member of the Joinery team.
During his training Adam was also awarded Apprentice of the Year by Pendennis, and his high level of competence was recognised at the annual UK Skills Awards 2015, where he was presented with a gold medal in cabinet making.