Chris Shepherd’s qualifications urgently needed an upgrade. Time to contact the Slater Fund...
Chris Shepherd is newly qualified as an officer of the watch. But he isn’t in his early 20s, and he didn’t embark on a cadetship when he left secondary school.
He’s one of the increasing number of seafarers who turn to officer training as a way of boosting their careers later in life.
‘I started out as a fisherman,’ he explains. ‘That’s what most people did in Macduff, the town in Aberdeenshire where I grew up. And when the fishing jobs ran out, I joined the oil industry and became a barge engineer.’
He enjoyed his work with Atwood Oceanics, which took him all over the world.
But after 12 or 13 years out on the rigs, he started to feel that he’d taken his offshore career as far as it could go. In addition, a downturn in the industry was putting jobs at risk — the second time something like this had happened to Chris.
‘I went to the marine manager for advice, and he said a second officer post might be available on the drill ships if I got my Officer of the Watch certificate,’ he recalls. ‘Then an opportunity came up to take voluntary redundancy, so I’d have a payment to put towards my living costs while I retrained.’
So he had a plan, but the pressure was on to finish his studies as soon as possible — for more than one reason. ‘I found out that my fastest route to qualification was to make use of my fishing experience,’ Chris says. ‘If I got my Fishing Class 1, I could get onto the accelerated route to officer of the watch. You need fishing seatime for the Class 1, and luckily I had some, because I had done a few fishing trips to make extra money while I was on leave from the rigs. But that was eight or nine years before, and your seatime can’t be more than 10 years old, so I had to be quick.’
With the additional risk that his savings could run low if he delayed, Chris lost no time in enrolling at the Scottish Maritime Academy (part of North East Scotland College in Peterhead). And it was here that his drive to advance his career was rewarded with a lucky break. The college staff realised that he was eligible for a bursary from the Slater Fund — the Nautilus scholarship scheme that helps experienced British seafarers train for their OOW qualification.
All Chris needed to do next was call the Marine Society, which coordinates the Slater Fund bursaries. ‘I spoke to the seafarer education manager Carla Rockson, who was really friendly and helpful,’ he recalls.
‘The next thing was to put together the itinerary of courses I needed to get to officer of the watch — which included the fishing courses, because they were part of the route to qualification — and then the Slater Fund paid the college for the tuition fees directly. I didn’t have to do anything!’
The Slater Fund can also help to cover other costs associated with OOW studies, such as buying textbooks. Here again, Chris has high praise for the Marine Society, whose book services manager Mark Jackson gave him excellent advice.
‘The whole thing was a very good experience,’ he says, and in December last year he rewarded the Fund’s faith in him by achieving his goal of qualifying as an officer of the watch. He even picked up an additional certificate in Dynamic Positioning along the way, knowing that this could be required for the work he is seeking in the offshore industry.
At 43 years old, Chris reckons there’s time to take his career even further, and he’s interested in continuing his studies up to the level of master mariner. But right now, the priority is to get his first job as a ship’s officer, and for that he has all the best wishes of Nautilus and the Marine Society.