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September 2011 | | telegraph | 23 CAREER DEVELOPMENT

Voyage of discovery for off shore rating

Work-based learning has changed John McLoughlin’s life almost beyond recognition. He tells SARAH ROBINSON about the power of education...


I was the oldest swinger in town!’ laughs John McLoughlin, looking

back on his time as a mature cadet. But if ever there was a good adver- tisement for swallowing your pride and going back to college, John is it. Now working as a health and

safety advisor for the offshore industry, John studied for his Offi cer of the Watch certifi cate in his 40s, having worked as a rating since he was 17. ‘I didn’t do much at school,’ he says, ‘but it wasn’t hard to get work on British ships in 1975, and I knew about the jobs because I grew up in Liverpool and

my dad worked at the docks.’ John enjoyed his adventur-

ous new career, which took him all over the world. But the tide was turning against British rat- ings. Although he thought little of the wider economic situation while cocooned in the world of his vessel, he did eventually start to notice that more and more people were looking for work in the pool. ‘By 1982, I could see the writing on the wall for deepsea, so I moved to North Sea supply boats, where there was still a boom going on.’ It was a shrewd move. While

many British ratings were real- ising that their only chance of

staying at sea lay in becoming an offi cer, this wasn’t imperative in the offshore sector – where inter- esting, responsible jobs were still available without an OOW certifi - cate. A master on one of his vessels once suggested that John consider rating-to-offi cer training, but as a young man, he didn’t see a good enough reason to leave his well- paid job and start a new career at the lowest level. It wasn’t until after the year

2000 that he was compelled to reconsider offi cer training. ‘My company, Halliburton, said I had to be an offi cer to keep my job as deck supervisor on a self- elevating platform,’ he explains. By then he had a family to sup- port and couldn’t afford to be too blasé about potentially losing a secure job. So he gritted his teeth and enrolled at South Tyneside College. And yes, he was one of the oldest in his class, but he says there were plenty of seafarers of all ages at the college doing vari- ous courses, and it turned out he didn’t have to start from scratch – with all the knowledge and expe- rience he had already gained on the job, he managed to qualify in 14 months.

Halliburton paid John’s fees,

but there were still some fi nancial concerns, as he had to take unpaid study leave. Advice from the Marine Society proved invaluable, as did a grant from the Slater Fund (the Nautilus bursary scheme for rating-to-offi cer training). ‘The Slater Fund helped me buy books and tide me over with bills,’ he says. ‘Once I was in the scheme, I’d basically send bills and they would send money.’

K f

John McLoughlin is now studying for a postgraduate certifi cate/ master’s degree with Middlesex University, and carrying out

research into how work-based learning can be extended or adapted for diff erent professions in the maritime and off shore sectors (both oil & gas and renewables). Please help with this research by taking part in a short online survey via You can also get to the survey via the Nautilus International Facebook page.

So he’d done what he needed to do, got the cer- tifi cate his employer was

after… back to business as usual, right? Not quite. Something unexpected had happened: John had discovered a hidden thirst for knowledge. ‘The main advan- tage of the OOW training is that it turned me on to work-based learning,’ he explains. ‘It brought a whole new culture of education into my home, where we were able to talk about studying and learning in a way we’d never done before. My wife was very support- ive, and following on from my eldest daughter graduating as a

MN r ting

move on?ove Collect up to £16,000 to help your studies…

Are you a Merchant Navy rating considering career progression?

The JW Slater Fund, administered by Nautilus International, off ers awards of up to £16,000 to help ratings study for a fi rst certifi cate of competency.

And there is a discretionary bonus of £1,000 on obtaining an approved OOW Certifi cate.

More than 1,250 Slater Fund awards have been made by the Union since the scheme was launched in 1997.

Named in honour of former MNAOA general secretary John Slater, the awards are made to selected

UK-resident ratings aged 20 or over.

The money can be used towards the costs of any necessary full- or part-time education, and to provide some fi nancial support during college phases for those off pay.

Nautilus International is now inviting applications for the 2011 awards. If you want to make the next move, don’t leave things to chance — fi ll in the form on the right, or apply via:

gThe Marine Society provides education and careers advice for applicants.

MN rating wanting to

teacher, my youngest daughter has decided to go back to univer- sity to study accountancy.’ With the help of the Marine

Society, John started looking into further study, and decided to take a degree with Middlesex Univer-

a more rounded person with new interests

John McLoughlin “I’m now ”

sity. The university’s pioneering Institute for Work Based Learning enables students to gain credit for existing knowledge under its

Recognition and Accreditation of Learning (RAL) system. This isn’t just about certifi cate equivalency; on-the-job experience of all kinds can be submitted for appraisal. For his BSc (Hons) in Offshore Health and Safety Management and Training, John got about 1/4 of his credits from RAL. He didn’t have to leave work

while he studied for his degree, either. Students in the Institute of Work Based Learning attend lectures on campus when they can, but mostly study remotely. John found the online workshops and study materials very good, although if he was away at sea, the internet connection wasn’t always up to scratch. Fortunately, if he felt he had missed anything – or needed other help – he could speak to his programme advisor, a dedicated staff member with expertise in his fi eld. ‘She gave me fantastic support, taking away the mystique of the academic jargon.’ Coming away just 18 months later with a fi rst class honours degree, John discovered that new doors started opening for him. ‘Having the BSc (Hons) on my CV has made a difference in how people receive me – work is coming to me now. I

think I’m the same person I was before, but it’s the recognition that makes the difference.’


John has now become an IOSH-registered trainer to complement his work as an inspector and safety auditor for offshore windfarms, rigs and vessels. He regularly conducts health and safety training for off- shore personnel with the training provider DGA Safety, and says his own studies have given him an important insight into how people learn and what encourage- ment they need: ‘I’m more toler- ant – I understand when others are struggling.’ He’s also become a part-time programme advisor for Middlesex University, lending his expertise to the process of rec- ognising prior learning, as well as mentoring fellow maritime pro- fessionals. ‘Work-based learning is not just

about getting a better job,’ he says. ‘It’s made me a more rounded per- son with new interests. I want to see more employers from the off- shore sector getting involved in supporting employees to do WBL — organisations can benefi t from these changes in their staff too.’

Complete this form and send it to:

Slater Fund, The Marine Society, 202 Lambeth Road, London SE1 7JW. I am over 20 years of age and a rating normally resident in the UK. Please send me details of the John Slater Award.

Name: ____________________________________________________________________________

Address: __________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________

Email: _____________________________________________________________________________

This form is also available online at: or email your name, address and request for Slater Fund details to:


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