Full speed ahead

With major expansion in both the UK’s civil and defence marine sectors, the hunt is on for engineers with a range of specialist skills. Julia Pierce reports.

The UK’s marine technology industry is thriving, with both the civil and defence sectors steaming ahead. Turnover in the leisure sector alone was £2.8bn in 2007, according to the British Marine Association, with manufacturing powering the industry’s success.

Growth has also been consistent, at an average rate of 7.8 per cent a year since 1997, driven by construction of new facilities at home and abroad.

‘Marine civil business has been, and is likely to continue to be extremely busy,’ said Sean Barker, divisional manager of the ports and marine division at consulting and business services group Mouchel. ‘It is mainly driven by waterfront developments in the Middle East and a boom in container port projects on the back of trade growth projections,’ he said.

‘Big oil and gas projects, commissioned because of the demand for energy and rising oil revenues, mean the demand for skilled workers is hugely outstripping supply. This shortage is seen especially at mid-career level, from newly chartered engineers through to those with 10 years’ experience. This shortage is not just a UK problem, it is a global one too.’

For engineers who have already attained chartered status or above, the company has a variety of positions. ‘Mouchel is always looking for people with technical knowledge as well as good customer skills,’ said Barker. ‘We are after engineers with experience in marine or coastal civil engineering on different steps of a career ladder, from newly-chartered engineers right through to principal and director positions.’

He said the recruitment drive was being spurred by winning projects and the desire to grow the business. ‘It is also heavily influenced by the kind of challenges and opportunities we might face in the future.’

The company is offering several long-term project opportunities. ‘For engineers interested in travel and experiencing different cultures, Mouchel offers secondments in different locations as we have bases throughout the Middle East as well as the UK,’ said Barker. ‘Our employees are passionate about growing the business and we are constantly looking to expand into new markets.’

It is not just the civil marine industry that is seeking staff. The Royal Navy needs marine, weapons and air engineers. There are also vacancies for engineer (training management) officers, and engineer (information systems) officers.

Recruits begin their careers at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, Devon, where they attend naval officer training for 28 weeks, learning leadership and team-working skills, how to command and manage junior personnel and how to handle ships, said Lt Cdr Mick Thomson of engineer officer recruitment.

‘In addition to academic studies, you will also go to sea in a warship for seven weeks to discover what life on board is like,’ he said.

Fleet-time training, a four-month package, follows, designed to give new officers a breadth of knowledge working with each of the ship’s departments, learning how they operate and studying for the final Fleet Board examination.

‘Pass this and you will have qualified fully as a Royal Navy officer,’ said Thomson. ‘After this, some engineer officers undertake specialist fleet time. This is where you work to gain greater depth of knowledge of your specialisation.’

Then comes professional training. ‘Here you will learn the role that your specialist engineering skills will play in the Navy,’ said Thomson. ‘You will find out about the sophisticated technologies we use and how you will be expected to manage and maintain them.’

The professional training for weapons engineer officers takes place at the Maritime Warfare School at HMS Collingwood and for marine and air engineer officers the School of Marine and Aeronautical Engineering at HMS Sultan, both in Hampshire. Officers who choose to serve in the submarine service have additional specialist training.

Once training is over, recruits are posted to a ship, submarine or operational air squadron for about two years as an engineering department deputy.

‘You remain with your unit wherever it is posted,’ said Thomson. ‘At the moment we have officers in the south Atlantic, Caribbean, Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf, as well as in home waters and many other land and sea-based locations around the world. Air engineer officers will deploy with their squadron to an aircraft carrier, operational air stations in the UK or a forward operating base anywhere in the world.’

He said applicants should be motivated, intelligent and enthusiastic with good leadership qualities and communication skills. Successful engineering graduates are eligible for a £12,000 ‘golden hello’ if not already in receipt of RN sponsorship, and a basic salary of more than £28,000 on entry, rising to £36,000 on promotion to lieutenant, usually within two years of joining.

Thomson said RN staff benefit from the opportunity to travel widely, advanced training, an active, sporting lifestyle and a guaranteed route to chartered engineer status. ‘There is a lot of variety in your role,’ he claimed. ‘It is unusual to stay in one place for more than two years. You also have seven weeks’ holiday a year, free medical and dental care and the chance to join a non-contributory pension scheme if successful in being offered a full-term commission.’

Elsewhere, BAE Systems Submarine Solutions is looking for experienced engineers at a variety of levels, particularly those with CAD skills who can carry out detailed design work and have previous shipbuilding experience. ‘High-end engineers are in short supply,’ said Chris Nelson, communications manager.

‘To find applicants with experience in systems engineering — for instance, in areas such as nuclear systems — is very rare but they are vital to our business going forward.’

The company is designing and building the Astute class nuclear powered attack submarines, based in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

The company offers relocation packages and competitive salaries. ‘Few people are familiar with the South Lakes area, and perceptions of Barrow are not always positive,’ said Nelson. ‘However, the town is undergoing massive regeneration, we are 10 minutes’ drive from the Lake District National Park, and enjoy an unspoiled stretch of coastline, so it is a great place to live and work.’

Nelson outlined the broad range of engineering activities available. ‘We are designing and building advanced structures that need innovation in areas including metallurgy, nuclear engineering, systems integration, sound dynamics and vibration management that allows subs to operate silently and so travel undetected in the deep ocean,’ he said.

BAE Systems Submarine Solutions is working on the concept design for a new generation of strategic missile-carrying, nuclear- powered subs to replace the Vanguard class. ‘Despite current economic conditions your future would be secure, with the Astute programme and the nuclear submarine deterrent platform representing an order book stretching to 2035,’ claimed Nelson.

He said the division’s experience of building, testing and commissioning nuclear reactors for the submarine programme is also enabling the business to explore opportunities in the civil nuclear market for power generation through a memorandum of understanding with Westinghouse.