As part of Scottish Apprenticeship Week, two of CalMac’s trainees from Uist have told of their experiences as part of the company’s apprenticeship courses.
Megan MacDonald from Drimsdale on South Uist and Kathleen MacDonald from Knockintorran on North Uist (pictured) both gained hard-fought places in different disciplines.
As part of Scottish Apprenticeship Week, the pair attended a meeting with CalMac’s managing director Martin Dorchester and Stuart McMillan MSP at the company’s headquarters in Gourock, to tell more about their experiences as part of the schemes.
Having recently completed her apprenticeship in engineering, 20-year-old Megan is now employed full-time as a motorman, otherwise known as engine watch rating, on board MV Hebridean Isles, which usually serves the Kennacraig to Islay route alongside MV Finlaggan. She has been with CalMac for two years.
Her engineering story began when she was 12-years-old and helping out on Saturday’s at Hebridean Coaches’ garage near her home on South Uist. She progressed in the space of five years to working full-time with them.
“I left because working at sea was what I wanted to do,” said Megan, a former pupil of both Iochdar School and Sgoil Lionacleit.
“I hadn’t heard much about the apprenticeships before I got the job, I was aware of it but it wasn’t a big thing back then, it’s definitely taken off now though.
“It was actually my dad looking for work for my sister that found the motorman apprenticeships, I just applied to see what would happen, fully expecting to not even get an interview. I really enjoyed everything about it and getting paid to learn about something you want to do is a real bonus.
“I’d say if you want to work at sea then locally you won’t get a better job than with CalMac. I mean, I enjoy it because I enjoy my job – I get on well with the people I work with which helps a lot when you effectively live with them for a couple of weeks. But because all the vessels are reasonably local, the two-weeks-on-two-off rota is ideal, although sometimes I’d rather be on board for longer; sometimes you’re just settling in and it’s time to go home again, but I won’t complain about that. I can have a career without having to leave home or move to the city or mainland.
“Things come up every day though so I’ve still got a lot more to learn. Hopefully, once I’ve accrued enough sea time, I’ll be able to go back to college and try and get an engineer’s ticket – I think that’s pretty much what I’m aiming for, but at the moment I’m just enjoying my job.”
When she’s not busy on board helping to keep the fleet running, Megan is most likely to be found helping on her parents’ croft or playing about with engineering stuff.
“In my time off, I’m probably messing about with things in the shed or cleaning my car! I spend an embarrassing amount of time on my car. I also enjoy going to the gym and playing football and also going to football games. I’m a big Inverness supporter.”
And, while Megan is now embarking full-time on what she hopes will be a long and rewarding career with CalMac, Kathleen is just beginning her particular adventure.
She is one of the brand new hospitality with maritime enhancements apprentices – coincidentally along with Megan’s sister Katie – and is excited to be the first to do the new course.
In addition to everything that a hospitality apprentice would learn, the maritime version also includes all the basic seamanship qualifications which are earned by those participating in both the deck and engineering courses.
Kathleen, who now lives in Yoker in Glasgow, spent some time working at the SEC in Glasgow, before returning home to work at the Stepping Stone restaurant in Balivanich, where she had also worked for five years previously, fitting it around school and college holidays. While at City of Glasgow College she completed an HND in advertising and public relations and had also begun a degree in HR and marketing at Strathclyde University.
“Leaving university early was a big step,” said 21-year-old Kathleen, a former pupil of Paible School and also Sgoil Lionacleit.
“I think what attracted me to the apprenticeship was the fact that it was college-based and on-the-job training. I wanted to push myself and I was determined to make something of myself.
“I didn’t really have anything lined up once I left university, so when I saw these apprenticeships I thought ‘that would be a great position’ and, if I’m honest, applying is probably the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Talking about her experiences as a CalMac apprentice so far, Kathleen continued: “A brilliant part of the apprenticeship has been meeting so many great people – be it lecturers at college of the crews on the boats. I thoroughly enjoyed my first hands-on experience on MV Clansman and I couldn’t have done it without the crew who were absolutely fantastic. I can’t thank them enough for everything they taught me.
“The only think that took a bit of getting used to was living and working in the same place. Oh, and also getting over the seasickness!”
When Kathleen successfully completes her course, she will leave with an SCQF Level 5 in Hospitality, SQA Level 2 Maritime Studies and Elementary Food Hygience Level 2. Part of the maritime element of the course has already seen her and her fellow apprentices learning about firefighting, first aid and personal sea survival techniques.
Kathleen hopes that her apprenticeship will lead to a full-time career with CalMac and said: “It has been a fantastic journey so far and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.”
In the meantime, when studying and shifts allow, she spends a lot of time with family – her brother and sister also live in Glasgow and she spends a lot of time with her two young nieces.
“I also try to go home as often as I can to catch up with family and friends. Food really interests me, too, so, if I’m not making a mess in the kitchen at home, I’ll be out for dinner. And I really enjoy reading – if it’s a really good book, I can finish it in a couple of days!”
Scottish Apprenticeship Week celebrates and highlights achievements and opportunities for young people around the country, as well as recognising employers who enable the training and the benefits such commitment makes to the economy in the short and longer term.
Since 2013, 40 apprentices have been part of CalMac apprenticeships – 85 per cent of those who have qualified have been employed by the company. The schemes have grown significantly in popularity and, in 2016, for the 2016-2017 intake, around 1,200 young people applied for just 30 available positions. The Merchant Navy Training Board – which recognises training programmes for professional mariners – has named CalMac as one of the top five companies in the UK for maritime apprenticeship numbers.
It has been a year of firsts for the company:
- CalMac brings all elements of its apprenticeship training to Scotland for the first time
- The company introduces a new course – MA in hospitality with maritime enhancements – the first of its kind in the UK
- For the first time, CalMac has been named by the Merchant Navy Training Board as one of the top five companies in the UK for maritime apprenticeship numbers
“It has been a real landmark year for our apprentices,” said CalMac managing director Martin Dorchester. “I am extremely proud of the young people who have come up through our apprenticeship training; they are a genuinely strong addition to our teams across the network and have been welcomed by our crews.
“Training young people is both rewarding and makes perfect business sense. I cannot praise our apprentices and the company’s learning and development staff enough for the commitment and progress they have made.
“Bringing the classroom element of the courses to Scotland for the first time has been a long-held goal of ours and I’m delighted the partnership with City of Glasgow College has successfully brought this to fruition. The addition of our third apprenticeship and the development of the content for that course, has also benefitted from this close relationship.”