Training and development on the UK’s busiest waterway

Employers are committed to a more structured, collective and cohesive approach to marine training on the Thames.

How best to sum up the Thames Skills Academy? “It is by employers, for employers, really identifying employers’ training needs in the marine sector in the port and delivering that training for them,” says Julian Parkes. “The Thames Skills Academy is focusing on what employers on the river actually need, not what anyone else thinks they need.”

The PLA is a founder member and an employer member of this exciting new venture and Julian Parkes, formerly the PLA’s deputy chief harbour master, is now chief executive of the Thames Skills Academy (TSA).

The TSA has been set up to address training and upskilling for those operating tugs, barges and other vessels on the Thames. In many ways it has been born out of the Tideway project and consequent demand for more skills on what is already the UK’s busiest waterway. The TSA will also contribute to the legacy of the Tideway project far beyond the completion of the ‘supersewer’.

Thames skills academyThe PLA and Thames Skills Academy team at Skills London, the capital’s biggest jobs and careers event for young people.

“We need to raise standards on the river and there needs to be a more planned approach to training if the river and port is to meet the future challenges it is facing,” says Julian Parkes. “This links to the Thames Vision. We are seeing some major infrastructure projects, port development, more passengers and more cargo. If we are to meet these challenges, we need a larger, flexible marine workforce with the right skills.

“Operators who have already signed up to the TSA have done so because they want the river and port to benefit and recognise the need to move up a gear.”

The TSA was officially launched during 2016. It will act as a focus for a more structured, collective and cohesive approach to marine training and development on the Thames; through economies of scale and excellent training providers, it will facilitate and broker high-quality, flexible and cost effective training.

“It is about engaging with employers and convincing them of the benefits of using economies of scale and training systems and training providers. Whether operators are moving passengers, freight or household rubbish, they all need crews with core skills. But it goes further. On passenger boats, you need people skills, health & safety training, crew management, crisis management training, for example, things that the boatmasters licence doesn’t cater for.”

The TSA has already developed proposals with the Maritime Skills Alliance to enhance the competency framework for the UK’s inland waterways, and the new framework would also provide transferability between inland waterway and seagoing vessel qualifications.

“The TSA is about supporting employers and improving engagement with young people, because we need to find new trainees,” says Julian Parkes. “For example, we are working with the Sea Cadets and London Nautical School in this respect.”

The TSA will start providing training in its own right, probably within a year or two. At present, it is building up its membership and developing a list of preferred training providers. “We want to make sure the training providers we use on behalf of our members are providing good training at reasonable cost, using good quality facilities – we will vet them.

“Our group training officer will be engaging with employers, getting to know their business and undertaking training needs analysis and sourcing that training through our preferred providers. Rather than providing ‘standard’ training courses which partly meet employers’ needs with no choice, we want employers to work together and refine their requirements, so that courses can be adjusted to their particular needs and delivered successfully.”

The TSA is chaired by former PLA chief executive Richard Everitt. At the launch, of the TSA last year, he said: “Well-trained, skilled people are vital to making the most of the new opportunities highlighted in the Thames Vision. A busier river offers both the opportunity of new jobs and also the challenge of more complex navigation. That’s why safety will be a priority for the trainees accessing courses through the TSA.”

Julian Parkes and his team moved into offices in Dartford toward the end of 2016. At that point, the TSA had 12 employer members, as well as founding and affiliate members, with more due to sign up.

“We estimate that our members employ about 70% of people afloat on the Thames,” he says. “As we deliver and they see the benefits of working collaboratively and cooperatively to deliver training, we expect this number to grow.”