It’s all hands on deck as the South Devon College Fisher Apprenticeship is officially cast off.

More than 150 people applied for the ground-breaking apprenticeship, competing for 14 apprenticeship vacancies open to those that could prove they have what it takes for life on the sea.

Working alongside employers from across the south coast the apprentices will study at the South Devon College Marine Academy with its state-of-the-art facilities. The training is a mix of theory and practical work, including mandatory Seafish qualifications which will enable them to go to sea and safely operate on the vessels.

“This journey started in lockdown, when South Devon College became aware of the ongoing recruitment challenges faced by the fishing industry. Following multiple meetings with key stakeholders and representatives that included fish producer organisations and Seafish, it was clear that action was required to attract and train future generations of crew in order to address the recruitment crisis within the fishing industry,” said Adrian Bevin, Head of Curriculum at South Devon College.

“The lack of new recruits was proving a significant challenge for trawlers to operate at sea and meant that the industry was becoming reliant on international crews. At the outset we did a lot of engagement work with the sector to establish employment opportunities but also to change the perception of what the sea fishing sector is in the modern day which is very different to what it used to be.”

From building site to the open sea 41 year old Joe Cook isn’t afraid of hard work.

“I was a builder for 20 years and got to the point where I wanted to do something different,” said Joe, originally from Essex but now living in Cornwall.

“I’m not put off by hard work or bad weather. I like a bit of manual labour and I like to do a hard day’s work,” said the dad of two.

“My plan is when I finish the apprenticeship to work in Brixham and then head back to Cornwall. I aim to start as a deckhand and then work my way up to being a skipper.

“It’s not the money that draws me to it, it’s more to show I can make it up the career ladder,” said Joe, who thought apprenticeships were just for young people or people at college.

The Fisher apprentices will spend their first two weeks at college, completing a mixture of practical and theory training followed by four weeks at sea. They will then go back on the water in five and seven week blocks interspersed with a week at college. At college they’ll learn all the skills they need to be a fisher including a range of fishing methods, sea survival, first aid, navigation, species identification, fisheries legislation and health and safety.

17 year old Alfie Steer from Beesands is no stranger to the sea having grown up in a fishing family. His dad owns a crabbing business and Alfie is keen to be a skipper and have his own fleet of boats one day.

“I’ve worked on and off with dad since I was 16 getting used to the feel of the boat and learning new things,” said Alfie, who enjoys being out on the sea. “This apprenticeship will give me a boost and I’ll get my qualifications and learn a lot too. My main goal is to be a skipper on a boat before taking over the family business and eventually having a fleet of boats.”

South Western Fish Producer Organisation, who is working with South Devon College on the Fisher Apprenticeship and is responsible for the recruitment of 10 of the apprentices, says there is excellent career progression within the industry.

“This apprenticeship is a great way to grow new talent within our industry by developing a motivated, skilled and qualified resource that the whole industry will ultimately benefit from.  Not only does it improve the attractiveness of the sector as a professional and valuable career pathway but improves safety within the sector – all of which make it a much needed and worthwhile investment.

Because most fishermen are self-employed, the standard apprenticeship model whereby the apprentice is ’employed’ does not work for our industry. This has prevented vessels offering apprenticeships and young people less opportunity to enter the workforce in the past.

Working with the apprenticeship agency Supplytrain CIC, SWFPO are running a pilot to overcome these barriers, develop a proof of concept and support the long-term skills shortage in the industry.  The approach adopted ensures a rounded experience of the fishing industry for our apprentices, one that allows them to work across different vessels, using different gear types, to better understand where they wish to specialise once they have completed their apprenticeship.”

The Fisher Apprenticeship programme at South Devon College has been developed in collaboration with fish producer organisations, employers and approved by the Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education and Seafish, a public body sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Katie Hooper, Fisherman’s training advisor at Seafish, commented:

“As an Industry we want to attract more young people. The Fishers apprenticeship is a fantastic opportunity to learn in depth about the industry and to experience working on a variety of fishing vessel during placements. Fishing is a very rewarding career and lifestyle for those looking to work outdoors and the fisher apprenticeship is a great way to achieve all the qualifications required and gain a huge variety of experience to kick start a career in the fishing industry. Being a fisherman is a way of life and the progression is endless, from deckhand, to engineer, skipper and vessel owner.”

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