Unable to travel home during the global pandemic, and wary of being trapped at sea with the crew change crisis, deck officer Nic Gardner chose to retrain to broaden her career options.
Why retrain during the pandemic?
Retraining is the most productive thing I can do with my time. I can't go home because my country's borders are closed, and I don't want to go back to sea because of the crew change crisis. I know a lot of people who are trapped onboard because of pandemic restrictions or by the China – Australia trade dispute. If the pandemic had struck just a year earlier, I would have been stuck on a coal ship off China.
I love going to sea, but I don’t want to go back until there's a bit more certainty about our rights and our ability to go home at the end of a contract. I've been at sea since I was 15, and it's really all I know. If I'm going to spend a few years ashore, I need a different set of skills.
What are you studying and why?
I am doing a BSc in Marine Operations at South Shields Marine School and the University of Sunderland. A degree gives me a broader range of job options and credibility. The course accepts a Master (unlimited) as an entry qualification, which meant I could get in easily.
Is the course in person or remote?
Technically it's an in-person course, but it went online because of Covid. We're not expecting to return to in-person classes because some of the students are overseas.
What do you hope to achieve?
I'm also studying a diploma in paramedicine by distance learning. Once I've completed that and my degree, I'd like to work in that field while I go on to further studies in Safety Science. The field of Safety Science focuses on shore-based industries (so far), but it has a lot to offer the maritime industry.
What's it like training in a pandemic?
I don’t think I’m typical here: I find it much easier than my previous studies. I’m in the UK and we're in lockdown. That means there are fewer distractions, so it's easier to focus. In addition, I dislike sitting in classrooms, so the fact that the course has moved online works much better for me than in person would. Plus, studying ashore in lockdown is easier than studying in my free time on board.
What was difficult about training in a pandemic?
Pre-pandemic, I completed most of my studies in my off-watch time at sea. That was hard because I couldn't focus solely on my studies, and I often didn't have internet or mail access. Currently, trying to deal with a large class on Microsoft Teams is difficult. The teacher has less control of the class than the classroom, and the technology isn't designed for this. Online groupwork with strangers is a headache.
What advice would you give to others looking to retrain now?
Go for it, especially if you're stuck ashore. The time will pass anyway, so you may as well put it to good use.