The Superyacht Cadets Shaping the Future
By Sam Watson
Usually when something exciting happens in yachting it concerns size, speed or technology. This time it’s about people, Italian people to be precise. The superyacht powerhouse of Viareggio in Tuscany has come together, with government support, to deliver a new initiative for the training and mentoring of cadets. It’s the first program of its kind and, for all the right reasons, it’s going to shake things up.
Italian shipbuilding and design are renowned for being world class, but it may surprise you to know that a colossal 25% of all yachts above 30m are built in Viareggio. A lifelong relationship with the sea, and shipbuilding in particular, have been in the DNA of its inhabitants for generations.
At the same time, over the last 10 years the global superyacht industry has been growing and maturing, creating an urgent need for more professional, career minded crew, prompting a number of key industry players to come together to find a solution.
The ISYL Foundation
Last year, NAVIGO, a consortium of 120 companies based in Tuscany, including four major shipyards (Azimut Benetti, Overmarine, Codecasa and Perini Navi) established the ISYL Foundation, with two main objectives. The first is to make young people aware of the career opportunities in yachting, and the second is to raise industry standards through government sponsored training with on board mentoring.
The result is the Cadet Program, dedicated to training Italian cadets especially for working on board superyachts. This is hugely positive for the industry, but it’s also a very smart way to inject enthusiasm and opportunity into a generation of young Italians facing high unemployment and/or limited access to on-the- job training.
Continuity and Vision
Another great Italian trait in evidence is the reverence of family. Whether it’s kids or superyachts, when they finally leave home there’s a deeper sense of knowing that the job doesn’t end there.
Vincenzo Poerio, President of the ISYL Foundation, is also head of Azimut-Benetti’s megayacht division, and a keen advocate of going beyond the usual handover of a new build, by supporting owners with crew training and management.
Similarly, a disconnect between the physical vessels and what happens on board once they leave the yard, prompted course developers to expose cadets to the whole process, from construction right through to getting sea time on board, creating the continuity that was previously lacking.
The Story so far
In May 2016 in Antibes, Pietro Angelini (NAVIGO), David Piardi (Italian Yacht Masters) and John Wyborn (representing MYBA’s Superyacht Careers Workgroup), presented an update on the program to a packed audience of crew agents, management and captains. There was also the opportunity to meet some of the 20 cadets, beautifully turned out and keen to make an impression with a view to getting hired.
It was abundantly clear that the shiny white elephant had left the room. It can’t be denied that Italian crews have long been overdue some good PR and in many ways this is the right ticket at the right time. The cadet program is grabbing it by the horns and perceptions are set to change.
Twenty cadets were selected from a total of 58 applicants, following a call out to Italian nautical schools across the country. Applicants had to be at least 18 years of age, with a high school certificate proving five years of prior nautical study. The selection process itself was also rigorous, involving psychometric testing, an audience with a panel and one-to-one interviews.
There is only one female cadet on the program this year, but it’s probably unfair to lay this at Italy’s door; it’s more likely due to the fact that, traditionally, nautical schools have been more associated with commercial shipping than with superyachts. Again, this is set to change.
Superyacht Captains and Chief Engineers
The inaugural course, ‘Superyacht Captains and Chief Engineers’ runs for two years and covers: General Skills and Professional and Technical Skills. Cadets also do all the required basic training such as STCW, Advanced Firefighting, First Aid, Leadership and Team Work.
Future courses are planned for Chef/Steward, Engineering and Project Management.
Having completed the classroom phase for this year, the cadets are now actively looking for employment to acquire the initial six months of sea time (followed by a further six months in year two). So far nine cadets have secured positions and the remaining 11 are actively seeking employment).
Italian Yacht Masters, an association of Italian captains, has been helping trainees to gain experience at sea for some time, initially via their ‘Cadets Onboard’ initiative, and now via ‘Superyacht Careers’, a broader program involving collaboration with MYBA, PYA, GEPY and IAMI. This consists of a Discovery Day to promote careers on board yachts, an Apprenticeship Program inviting students from hospitality schools to experience hospitality on board, and Cadets Onboard to facilitate sea time so trainees can access their exams.
On Board Mentoring
As well as 12 months of sea time, cadets are required to maintain an on board training booklet, with supervision by the captain or first officer for six months. Mentoring is a vital element, but not all captains want to mentor, or know how to. As Captain Rod Hatch said, “For most of us who want to do it, we’ve got no skill training, so we just do the best we can. I think the idea is fantastic but I think we should get something solid to underpin it.”
IYM and NAVIGO are addressing this and also considering ways to formally recognize captains who give their time to the project, perhaps with a certificate signed by the shipyard and/or MYBA.
Commercial or Private?
There are still a few hurdles to overcome in terms of the hiring vessel. “It’s already a major departure for the Italian government to allow a person with unlimited OOW certificates to get their sea time on anything that’s painted white. That was completely out of the question before, so it’s a major advance that they’ve allowed this to happen.” John points out.
However, currently the Italian government does not recognize sea time acquired on private vessels and there are good reasons for wanting to change this, for cadets as well as more senior crew.
Most yachts above 80m are in private use but the experience on offer would be broader and more useful. Larger yachts are also more likely to have the space to accommodate one or two cadets for a full season.
“I think it’s really important that we push for private yachts to be included in the scheme, and really open up the way for these guys to get relevant experience at a deckhand level so, when they get their qualification, they’ve got a bunch of skills that are really useful and that will put them ahead of other people with OOW certificates in our industry.” said John.
More generally, this ruling has presented serious problems for Italian deck officers who need to renew their Certificates of Competency but have been serving on private yachts. So much so that Roger Towner of the MCA will offer a cross-over route for Italian deck officers. This would imply recognition of the Italian training route up to a given level of qualifications, with recognition of sea time in Italian yachts for further advancement towards an MCA CoC.
This would remove a serious career block from Italian deck officers by allowing them at some stage to join the more typical RYA/MCA route. Noting that the new head of the UK Ship Register, Simon Barham, has announced a goal of doubling the size of the Register by 2020, any outreach to senior deck personnel by the MCA might assist in that effort, if only indirectly.
Sea Time and Employment
At the end of the two years, cadets are qualified to hold the position of deck officer but they will be starting out as deckhands. The minimum salary set by the Italian government is 650 Euros per month under a normal seafarers’ contract (SEA).
In truth this should make them irresistible, and the recruitment agents present pledged commitment to placing them, despite a reduced fee. “We are able to see the bigger picture as well! said Laurence Lewis, Director of YPI Crew.
“It needs to be presented to captains as a scheme, and the principle organizations in the industry, MYBA, PYA etc, need to get behind it” added John.
All the same, it’s natural to wonder how the cadets themselves might feel, working alongside less qualified peers earning four times as much, but the consensus among them is to take a longer term view as they will surely reap the rewards later. Whether it causes a shift in culture remains to be seen, but as Laurence pointed out, “Captains often complain that they have crew coming in who are overly money motivated, so it will be a breath of fresh air for captains to see there are some other triggers towards choosing a career, initially at least.”
Entry Level Training and Skills
Opening up the discussion, John asked the audience for their wish list of entry level requirements:
1) Which minimum training standards would you like to see introduced for entry level crew?
Deckhands who can do food service
Interior crew who are experienced boat handlers; familiar with deck life
Basic AV, IT, technology skills
2) Which attributes, personality traits and skills would you like young people to have when they start work?
Languages, willingness, ‘can-do’ attitude, water sports, instructor courses, carpentry, diving, traditional apprenticeship skills, varnishing, basic painting, knowing how to behave with guests, discretion, social media awareness, fender handling and line handling.
: Regards line handling, this is the reason the MCA introduced the EDH course and crew will now need to do this earlier as they need to hold the EDH for 18 months before sitting the OOW - this change comes into effect 1st Jan 2017.
The area of most concern was tender driving, which is also commonly reported as the greatest cause of stress among inexperienced crew. There was general agreement that the two day RYA course is inadequate and that there is an ongoing need for crew training with tender driving. Rod added, “It’s often overlooked but tender driving is also an opportunity to mature the team, as whoever is driving the tender is the captain of the tender.”
The challenge now is to put this back out to consultation and this in turn will impact on what ISYL and NAVIGO do in training young cadets in the future. The PYA will be working with MYBA and other parties in a combined industry effort. Three PYA council members are on the work group which is seeking to coordinate various national efforts to promote awareness of the serious career opportunities in professional yachting. They will also be reaching out to interested parties in Spain, among them AEGY, AENIB and ANEN, and with which MYBA has already collaborated on other issues.
“If I could interest anyone from SYBAss, the Superyacht Builders Association, in joining the work group, then I will do that, so we’ve got a whole industry wide perspective.” said John.
The Cadet Program has already evolved from a local to a national level and the ambition now is to collaborate internationally to harmonize training and raise standards around the globe.
“Merging all these different projects - it’s ambitious - but we could aim to standardize training and certification in different countries. This is very important and we are all trying to work in that direction.” said David.
Following the Italian lead, the initiative is likely to be mirrored in other countries, possibly in France via the Ecole des Metiers, and also in the UK, the primary difference being that currently Italian graduates will be trained to OOW Unlimited, while UK graduates will be deckhands.
Closing the meeting John said, “The future is going to see a change in terms of the way young people come into the industry, and what they’ve done before they actually turn up at the crew agent’s door or before they start pushing the bell at the end of a passarelle. Many of them will have a skill set way in advance of what we have at the moment and that will make life easier for everyone. That’s what’s in the pipeline and I think it’s a very exciting development.”
There’s no doubt that superyachts will always have a need for short-term backpackers, but a pool of pre-trained, career-minded talent is going to be a boon, for retention, for standards, and eventually in terms of crew culture. As David concludes, “The cadets are trained, they are motivated and they will be the future of the industry”.
By Sam Watson
This article first appeared on OnboardOnline in June 2016, and has been re-published with their kind permission.