The Royal Navy's new offshore patrol vessels.

Industry focus - maritime and offshore

We take a look at the maritime and offshore sector: what are the best routes into this industry, the most sought-after skills and the biggest employers.

The broad maritime industry is responsible for generating £46 billion (4.2 per cent) of total UK GDP and provides approximately 890,000 jobs, estimates the Crown Estate.

According to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), the design, build, manufacture and support of vessels supports 105,000 jobs and contributes £3.1 billion to GDP being responsible for around £7.6 billion of sales a year. Added to this, according to figures from the UK Chamber of Shipping, shipping generates more than £1million each hour of every day. The industry is extremely diverse and the figures provided are for the whole maritime and offshore industry.

What’s happening in the maritime sector?

Given that 71 per cent of the world is covered by sea, it goes without saying that the various maritime industries are responsible for a myriad of different career opportunities. They can be broken down into four sectors: commercial, leisure, naval/defence and offshore renewables.

The UK has an enviable reputation in the sector when it comes to research and development, design and manufacture and is also leading the way in green energy in the offshore renewables market. According to the industry body, RenewableUK, it has more wave and tidal stream devices installed than in the rest of the world put together.

While it enjoys a rich heritage though, the UK can’t rely solely on its reputation if it is to take advantage of the global opportunities that exist. In 2011, the UK Marine Industries Alliance published the first ever integrated growth strategy for the sector to ensure it can deliver against market opportunities and stated that greater co-operation across the different marine industries could increase the value of the industry. Its strategy report identified a number of key global trends impacting the industries including growth in emerging markets, increased commercial shipping, climate change and technical advances.

Some of the maritime industries remain relatively under-reported but areas like shipbuilding frequently hit the headlines. One of the most significant stories was the announcement of the termination of naval shipbuilding at Portsmouth after 500 years last year. While the UK has a reduced shipbuilding industry, this is balanced with the news that production of the Royal Navy’s new offshore patrol vessels began at BAE Systems in Glasgow last month, while the aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, which are being built at Rosyth Dockyard in Fife, will reportedly come into service in 2016 and 2018 (they are being delivered by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, a partnering relationship between BAE, Thales UK, Babcock and the Ministry of Defence).

It should be remembered that shipbuilding is just one industry though and there are many other success stories in the wider maritime industries.

What skills will be required/opportunities will exist?

There is currently an engineering skills shortage in maritime and this was the focus of a study earlier this year by the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST) and the engineering recruitment agency Matchtech, entitled, Mitigating the Skills Gap in the Maritime and Offshore Oil and Gas Market.

While it acknowledged that the UK’s shortfall of talent is deep-rooted across engineering, the UK market is faring worse than its global counterparts with proportionately fewer professional engineers than other industries, according to Oxford Economics. The report drew up 16 recommendations including the promotion of maritime and offshore as a brand, especially given it seems to receive less media ‘air-time’ than industries like automotive and aerospace. A study it ran showed that 90 per cent of respondents said they were struggling to get job-ready graduates to fill their roles.

Opportunities for engineers exist across the industries with roles including marine engineer and naval architect (which are involved in the design of vessels above or under the sea), shipbuilding and boatbuilding engineers and technicians, offshore engineers and commercial divers who typically maintain oil platforms or bridges. Ben Lee, recruitment consultant at specialist recruiter Marine Resources, adds that in-house training is often given where resources allow including (engine) manufacturer accredited training.

Who are your potential employers and what are the best routes in?

There are graduate, apprenticeship and other routes in to the maritime industry. Clearly a marine engineering degree will be highly desirable for some roles but many of the engineering disciplines such as mechanical, electrical, electronic as well as other STEM and technology related degrees will stand you in good stead.

There are a number of IMarEST accredited marine and other science and technology degrees as well as Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships that focus on the marine industry and cover areas such as boatbuilding, marine engineering and marine electrics.

Lee explains that the marine industry greatly values hands-on experience so those who secure an internship or a holiday job with a marine related company increase their chances of selection.

“Success can be dependent on what you can show you’ve learned in the industry,” he says, adding that some areas of the industry have less formal routes in than industries such as automotive.

“It’s completely varied, you have two- or three-man bands that want to recruit an engineer but also companies that might have 500-600 boats coming off a production line every year.”

In short, your employer could be an SME to global players in the luxury leisure yacht market such as Sunseeker International and Fairline or, in the commercial and defence sectors, BAE Systems and Babcock, as well as the oil and energy companies. Meanwhile, the Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the Merchant Navy have their own routes into engineering and related careers.

Whoever you find yourself working for though, the sector demands a genuine interest in maritime, top problem-solving skills, numeracy and technical ability as well as team-working, communication and leadership skills.

Where can you find out more?

A good starting point is to get hold of a copy of IMarEST’s Sea Your Future booklet. You can also find out more about relevant apprenticeships online.

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