Keith Longman: Berthon Boat Company Ltd

Keith Longman: Berthon Boat Company Ltd

Established in 1877, Berthon Boat Company Ltd is a family business that has recruited and trained apprentices for more than 100 years.  The business currently has 150 employees, 30 of whom are apprentices who have been recruited via the local press, careers fairs, work experience and via the National Apprenticeship Service online vacancies.

Keith Longman, Yard Manager at Berthon explains the importance of Apprenticeships to the business:

“We have between 200-250 Apprenticeship applicants every year and take on an additional eight new apprentices every twelve months.  As a local family business we are passionate about developing young people from the surrounding area – it’s what we’ve always done, generation after generation.  In addition, the industry-wide skills gap and an aging workforce means that training young people is necessary in ensuring the future and growth of our business and more widely the future of the industry itself. By investing in skills even during a recession we have lowered the age profile of our skilled wokforce substantially and negated the experience and knowledge drain as employees retire.

“Growing our own skills also means we are best placed to bid for and win major contracts without having to go out in the market and buy in skills at a premium which will happen as the economy grows for companies that didn’t or stopped training.  We have seen in the past that lack of investment in skills drives skills wage inflation as companies jostle for skills to service their needs.  We know that an active Apprenticeship programme is vital to remain competitive.”

“We have vast experience in training apprentices and have run an Apprenticeship Expansion Pilot in the marine industry for the government from 2009/11 where we led 15 companies into starting their own Apprenticeship programmes, bringing 60 new apprentices into the industry.  At the end of the pilot 58/60 of the apprentices were still on programme giving a success rate of 96.6%.  We are now partnering with The Worshipful Company of Shipwrights on a duplicate scheme providing funding for first year wages for marine companies taking on their first apprentice.  Since the scheme was started last year 10 companies have begun their own Apprenticeship programme.  Berthon administers the scheme for ‘The Shipwrights’ free of charge providing mentoring and guidance to companies as they set up their programmes.”

Apprentices at Berthon undertake a pre-apprenticeship course before joining the company. They attend college full time for six-eight weeks, follow Performing Engineering Operations (PEO) units, gain valuable workshop experience and vital health and safety knowledge.  “Most of our apprentices move into a full time position after their Apprenticeship so it is important that we train them according to our company needs,” Keith explains,

“If we invest in getting the right people trained for our business, this breeds loyalty and many become team leaders and progress into management.  As a former apprentice, I can vouch for the career path available for apprentices at Berthon, and this is something that we encourage our young recruits to strive for. Around 50 percent of our management team started as apprentices so it is more than achievable for those aspiring to move into a senior position.  Most recently, last autumn one of my former apprentices joined our project team as a junior manager, again highlighting that progression.”

Berthon has 100 people on the shopfloor in skilled roles and of those around two thirds have completed an Apprenticeship within the company. Keith continues,

“Our apprentices undertake an intermediate Level 2 City & Guilds technical certificate and Level 2 NVQ in year one of their Apprenticeship before progressing to an advanced Diploma at Level 3 with the Apprenticeship lasting four years in total.  We ensure that each individual works within the different areas of  their department , e.g. engineering servicing, refit and repair, fabrication and new construction so that they have a rounded experience before specialising. We also offer lots of in house training and role specific manufacturers’ courses. We work hard to grow our apprentices and notably this year, we are providing six of our apprentices the opportunity of a lifetime to gain work experience on a Motor Yacht delivery trip from New Zealand. One of our apprentices will fly to New Zealand on 26th February and gain work experience at Circa Marine where the vessel is being made ready before joining the first leg of the trip to Tahiti.  He will then fly home as our second apprentice joins the vessel on the three week voyage across the Pacific Ocean to the Panama Canal.  Another will help navigate the Panama Canal and up to Antigua where his place will be taken by another apprentice for the trip to Bermuda.  The last two legs of the trip will see apprentices cross the Atlantic stopping off at the Azores for the final changeover.  Following an application and interview process we chose apprentices that the trip would make the most difference for; both professionally and personally in order to really add value to their Apprenticeship experience and put Berthon’s employees quite literally ‘on the map’!  We are very grateful to our client who is accommodating our apprentices on this trip of a lifetime and he and our MD, Brian May were fully involved in both hatching the original idea and the selection process.”

“In the past I have found driving the quality of Apprenticeship delivery challenging. However, I am working closely with Brockenhurst College to ensure that Apprenticeships are more employer-led and the college based training is fit for purpose – this will be hugely beneficial for businesses.  I am also working with Semta, the sector skills council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies, to update the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Marine Apprenticeship frameworks that all the awarding bodies use to deliver the qualifications.”

Berthon has recently won the award for SME Investment in Skills at the inaugural Semta Skills Awards and Keith is committed to championing the benefits of running Apprenticeship programmes to SMEs, particularly within the boating industry.  “Apprenticemakers is a great initiative which I hope will help expand the take-up of Apprenticeships.  As a member of the British Marine Federation’s Training Committee I am working with the BMF, Semta and other key stakeholders to develop a new Apprenticeship for boat movers and marina operatives which I hope will also encourage take-up.”

Keith concludes, “If I had one piece of advice to offer businesses considering taking on an apprentice it would be to get fully involved in the delivery of the whole programme.  It’s like anything in life, you get out what you put in – it will mean investing valuable resources and time but the end result will be a fully skilled employee to help sustain and grow your business .”

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