Committed to tomorrow's Thames

Apprenticeships play a huge part in sharping the future of the Thames. Capital Pleasure Boats are committed to continuing to support and nurture apprentices to ensure a safe and knowledgable tomorrow for our unique waterway.

It's probably fair to say that apprenticeships used to be seen as a cop out to a degree, however attitudes have changed massively in the last few years and apprenticeships are now seen as an excellent way to get on-the-job training and a guarantee of employment, that you love, at the end of it. At Capital Pleasure Boats we have employed 16 apprentices since our inception almost 13 years ago. In fact our longest serving crew member, Will McKee, started with us as an apprentice and has worked his way through the firm to Operations Manager (and I think it's fair to say we would be lost without him now!) Will knew he wanted to work on the river from a young age, he grew up around boats and says he could think of nothing better than working on boats for a living. “Following on from my aim to work afloat the next natural step was the seek an apprenticeship,” he says. “The majority of people who work on the river start this way.”

Currently CPBS have 7 apprentices, ranging in experience from George who has just started with us, to Joe who gained his BML (Boat Master’s Licence) this month and will therefore be a Freeman of the River Thames early next year. Both the directors of the firm gained their skills as apprentices and both are passionate about investing in tomorrow’s skippers. Scott Neicho, director, says, “The apprenticeship scheme on the Thames is tried and tested. When I followed my dad’s footsteps and became an apprentice Waterman and Lighterman I joined a close knit community of people all dedicated to maintaining the standards and traditions of working on the tidal Thames. I gained knowledge from my peers and I love being able to give this back through CPBS’s apprenticeship scheme today. There is nothing better than seeing a green as grass boy who doesn’t know one end of a hitcher from the other, transform into a man who can skipper passenger and work boats confidently and safely along our unique waterway.”

George Gilbert, 18, is our newest apprentice, having been with us since September 2015. He comes from a long line of Watermen and Lightermen, and all he has ever wanted to be is a skipper on the Thames like his dad and grandad before him. He says he liked school but as he knew what he wanted to do he was just waiting to get out to start his apprenticeship. “I love the river,” he says, “I love the community and its unique environment. I chose an apprenticeship to get a better knowledge and experience of the Thames, there are other routes to becoming a skipper but none as good as an apprenticeship.” He is clearly incredibly passionate about the work, when asked what he liked about working at CPBS he gave me a long list, the dislike list was far shorter “Nothing!” And why CPBS? I chose CPBS because it’s a good, well-structured company with a large variety of boats and people so I can gain lots of experience. I also love the fact I can work on passenger boats, work boats and multicats, it will put me in such good standing when I qualify.”

Will echoes this sentiment, “After starting at another passenger boat company when I left school I quickly realised that there is a lot more to the Thames than just passenger boats. CPBS had several workboats in addition to the passenger boats, and after doing some part time work with them when a full time job became available I made the change to further my development.”

Apprentices on the Thames are put on the job from day 1, working alongside qualified Watermen and Lightermen and absorbing the rules, regulations and etiquette as they go. Alongside this there is some book learning for various exams and qualifications, and CPBS works closely with the apprentices regarding time off for courses and exams, as well as paying for all major qualifications. In return we ask for commitment, enthusiasm and hard work, a great team spirit and a can-do attitude.

Apprenticeships are most definitely a team sport, and one that CPBS is committed to continuing. From our point of view there are lots of benefits to employing apprentices, but the main one is that the young people who come to us are adamant they will achieve their goal of becoming a Freeman of the Thames, and all they need from us is a little help to get there. Compared to some professions that people fall into straight from school just to get ‘a job, any job’, this enthusiasm is invaluable. It ensures commitment to both the work and the profession. It means they don’t miss their courses and they have a vested interest in making sure they pass those exams because they want to move up through the firm and become a mate, and then a tug skipper, and then a passenger boat skipper.

Obviously as an employer of young people, we need to teach them not only the day to day workings of the boats, but also all aspects of the job, including safety, courtesy and reliability, all things that we are very strict on at CPBS. That doesn’t mean the work’s not fun though, “Although the job we do is serious and we have to be on the ball at all times, we always have fun doing it,” says Will. “Plus the way CPBS works means we all form close friendships.”

So would you recommend apprenticeships to others? “Yes of course,” says Will. “I believe I made the best choice by leaving school and starting my apprenticeship and have never looked back.” George is similarly enthusiastic, “The benefits of apprenticeships are that you get on the job training and you get an idea if you want to do this for the rest of your life,” he says. And do you? “Oh yes," he grins, "I LOVE this job!”

December 2015

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