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Nautilus has welcomed the recently-announced increase in the UK Support for Maritime Training (SMarT) funding of up to £43 million per year. The increased government contribution of 50% of the total training cost, up from approximately 30%, is an important first step towards the ultimate goal of 100% funding, as recommended by the Maritime Skills Commission Cadet Review Report.
The policy will encourage companies to recruit more cadets and hopefully arrest the decline in cadet numbers which, having stagnated for a number of years previously, have taken a serious hit during the pandemic.
In addition to encouraging recruitment of new cadets, the proposals also seek to address the perennial problem of post-qualification employment of newly qualified officers. Nautilus has consistently argued for government intervention to incentivise companies to offer permanent jobs to the cadets they train once they have qualified. This is due to the number of reports we receive each year of newly qualified officers struggling to find employment, having been ditched by their tonnage tax company sponsor once they served their purpose. The new funding model addresses this issue by contributing towards costs incurred by companies in providing the seatime and training towards qualified officers' management level certificates.
Of course, we have been here before. In 2018 the government announced the 'SMarT Plus' scheme, which was ultimately unsuccessful due to industry perception that it was overly complicated. The Maritime & Coastguard Agency has taken onboard industry feedback and sought to simplify the new funding mechanism, so it is now up to the companies to deliver.
We should remember, however, that the issue of cadet recruitment is not only limited by the number of places on offer but also by the number of suitable candidates available. The fact the companies have struggled to attract applicants in recent years is no surprise, given the increased competition from apprenticeships, inconsistent quality of onboard training, delays caused by pandemic-related restrictions, and high profile incidents which have brought the industry's sub-par employment practices to the public's attention.
If we are going to be successful in increasing the numbers to anywhere near what is required for our future skills needs, it is vital that companies are held to account not only for the numbers recruited but also for the quality of the experience they provide.