During my time working for Spinnaker Global’s HR Consulting division, I have been lucky enough to visit a number of maritime colleges across the UK. On my travels I am often introduced to a number of inspirational seafarers at different stages of their careers at sea.
In November I was lucky enough to visit the fantastic Fleetwood Nautical Campus, and while I was there I was introduced to Karley Smith.
Karley is currently working as DPO on DP Class 3 drillships in Africa as well as being a part time lecturer for the college.
To inspire people into the shipping industry, especially women, I’ve caught up with Karley since our meeting to interview her about her experiences in the shipping industry and her top tips for anyone considering going into maritime.
Tell us about your decision to go to sea – how did your shipping career begin?
My entry into the Merchant Navy actually happened by accident! Whilst studying for my A Levels my younger brother embarked on a cadetship at Fleetwood Nautical College. I attended an Open Day that he was helping at and I was attracted by a new opportunity being marketed there – to complete a degree whilst also training for a career at sea. I had always intended to go university but this seemed much more appealing - to be debt free with a degree, professional qualifications and also have a clear career structure and opportunities mapped out after qualifying. Not only that but a career that can potentially enable you to ‘see the world’!
I decided to apply to James Fisher (the company my brother was with) and was subsequently offered a Cadetship on the Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited ships that Fishers were managing at the time, pending the outcome of my A Level results. Come results day, I received the results required for both the university I applied to as a first choice and also the Cadetship with PNTL, so I was faced with a choice. A career at sea won!
In September 2006 I was enrolled on Fleetwood’s first Foundation Degree course, partnered with Liverpool John Moore University. My first trip to sea was 6 months, sailing from the UK to Japan via the Panama Canal. Later in the cadetship I also sailed on board the James Fisher coastal product tankers, a stark contract to the deep sea cargo ships of PNTL. After obtaining my OOW CoC, I decided to self-fund my final year at LJMU in order to top up my FD to BSc (Hons). During this year, I was offered the opportunity to assist as a Demonstrator on the Navigation, Radar and Arpa Simulation training courses which gave me my first insight into being on the other side of education. Following graduation in 2010, I did some temp work as a Second Mate on the Stena Line ferries sailing between Fleetwood and Larne whilst applying for a starting position in the offshore industry which was the sector that I had decided I would like to work in. I was subsequently offered a position and have remained in the offshore sector since.
Have you encountered any difficulties being a women in a male-dominated industry?
Whilst it has not been entirely smooth sailing, I can honestly say that for the majority of my sea-going career I have felt supported and encouraged by my male colleagues. I always aim to carry myself in a polite and professional manner, treating others as I wish to be treated. This approach has not always been reciprocated but then the difficulties I have faced at sea could also be encountered in an office environment. Occasionally you can come across an individual whose behaviour crosses the professional boundaries.
In the past I have also faced those that do not believe women should be at sea and have been vocal in airing this opinion. It has only ever been added to my determination to succeed however and fortunately, this view point is encountered less and less.
What would you say to young women considering a career in maritime?
I would encourage any woman wishing to pursue a career in maritime; it is such as vast industry with many possible paths. The UK historically was a leading shipping nation and even now around 90% trade is transported by ship. As an island nation, the UK is always going to need shipping and the many roles required to facilitate this. I have found my career so far to be both challenging and rewarding, so I would recommend it to others. That is not to say however that the only option is to go to sea, there is a multitude of other careers such as maritime law, ship broking, insurance, logistics and management.
Shipping is notorious for not having enough visibility to the wider world unless something bad happens! What do you think can be done to change that?
I think that in order to change this significantly, you need to educate people starting at a young age. For instance, we have Fireman Sam, Postman Pat, Bob the Builder etc so children grow up to recognise and understand these pursuits. There is nothing to promote shipping, so to work at sea remains something of a mystery. A career in the Merchant Navy is also not widely understood in schools, as we are often classed together with the Armed Forces and commonly mistaken to be a part of the Royal Navy. Far more should be done to advertise shipping, both as a career option and to publicise the role that shipping plays, nationally.
Lately we have seen television advertising campaigns for the Royal Navy recruitment; why can’t there be something similar for the Merchant Navy? Obviously this would require funding, but if major shipping companies were to come together it would surely be of the benefit to all if the end result was to have a wider network of people interested in working at sea and with an understanding of the importance of shipping. The Discovery Channel’s series ‘Mega Ships’ was a great tool for giving an insight into different ship types and their purposes but unfortunately will only be viewed by a limited audience.
What do you see for your shipping career in the future?
I have recently started working in the drilling industry which although is still a part of the offshore sector, differs from the types of vessel and operations that I was doing before. I wish to gain further experience within this field and hopefully progress onto high ranks. Whilst there may come a time where I no longer wish to remain working at sea, I plan to stay within the maritime industry for certain.
Karley Smith, DPO on DP Class 3 drillships, was interviewed for Changing Course by Lucy McQuillan of Spinnaker Global’s HR Consulting division.