Captain Hughes, thank you for inviting me to join you at the Honourable Company’s first seminar for mentors.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here with you all to celebrate the future of UK seafarers. May I say I am delighted to be onboard HQS Wellington today (11 April 2014).
It is my third visit to the ship over the last few months and whenever I am here, one cannot help but remember the incredible contribution that the men and women of the Merchant Navy made in both world wars to the survival of our nation.
While looking back is important, I want to just say a few words about the future.
While the docks that once surrounded this ship have gone elsewhere, the sea remains the single most important connection between us and our trading partners.
Put simply, shipping is an engine of growth for Britain’s economy.
That’s why as Shipping Minister my commitment is to do all I can to ensure the British shipping industry continues to thrive.
As an island nation the maritime industry is of crucial importance to the UK, up to 95% of our goods arrive by sea. Shipping contributes around £12 billion a year to the UK economy and provides employment for many thousands of people.
British seafarers are recognised around the world for their skill, dedication and leadership. The fundamental reason for this is the quality of the vibrant maritime training programmes that are available.
The long term health of the maritime sector relies on a sufficient supply of trained seafarers now and in the future.
But there are problems to overcome.
By 2021 it has been estimated that there will be a shortfall of around 3,500 British trained deck and engineering officers.
Without the next generation of seafarers, it is unlikely that the UK will be able to retain its worldwide reputation for having the most skilled, highly trained and committed workforce.
I want young people to know that a maritime career is an excellent decision.
They need to know, it’s an industry which is interesting, challenging and there are good opportunities to progress.
If you work hard, you’ll go far - and in shipping that could be very far indeed!.
That’s a message I want to be heard far and wide.
That’s why attracting and training more UK seafarers is one of the 3 priorities for UK shipping we agreed with the industry and trades unions last year.
There are 3 primary things that we are doing to help.
First, the Tonnage Tax has supported around 22,000 months of officer training so far.
There are 78 company groups currently active within the scheme, accounting for around 880 ships. The total cumulative training commitment for 2013 is for around 1,700 trainee places.
Second, the government is committed to putting the right mechanisms and infrastructure in place so the industry can build on what it has already achieved. As such, the government continues to invest in the future maritime workforce through the Support for Maritime Training programme (SMarT), which has an annual budget of £12 million per year.
We announced last September that the £12 million budget set until 2016 will receive a boost of up to £3 million a year, an increase of 25%.
That’s because we believe sustaining the UK’s skills base and to maintaining the quality of the maritime training programmes is essential.
Third, maritime will be one of the priorities for our new apprenticeships schemes.
The standards for deck, engine room and catering ratings will be developed by employers. That will ensure the apprenticeships provide the skills employers need and the qualifications people want to secure a good job.
A few days ago I met with ministers from across government, industry representatives and the trades unions to see if more could be done.
We agreed that we would make SMarT funding available for junior officers completing training towards their second certificate of competency.
I believe that funding this training will be more attractive to those seeking to improve their qualifications and make them even more valuable to the marine industries.
So that’s what we are doing to help.
But as the philosopher John Locke said:
education begins the journey but good company and reflection must finish it.
That sums up for me why having a mentor is just so important.
The cadets and junior officers who you will be supporting are embarking on a long voyage.
You have the knowledge to guide them, particularly when they might have doubts and questions whether they’ve made the right decisions.
And by being there you are an inspiration. You show that the long journey can be completed and they can fulfil their aspirations.
That is something only you can do.
So, in conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to say: thank you.
You are making a major long-term, commitment.
But your commitment is incredibly important.
I think you are absolutely one of the reasons British seafarers are widely held to be among the best in the world.
By caring about the industry and the people who work in it, you play an absolutely vital role in its long term success.
The Honourable Company is to be both envied and commended in designing this unique scheme which can be a beacon for other organisations in Britain and abroad.
So thank you all for your fantastic contribution.
I look forward to hearing about the details of the scheme and your roles within it.
I hope you enjoy the rest of the afternoon.