In this month’s member profile, we speak to Anna Percival-Harris, Managing Director at JPMA / Hoylake Sailing School Ltd., about swapping a career onstage for one at sea, opportunities for workboats in offshore wind, and the current skills landscape in the industry.
Your father John Percival set up JPMA/Hoylake Sailing School in 1996. Can you tell us a little more about the background of the business?
My dad had always worked at sea – he joined the merchant navy at 16 and basically worked his way up through the ranks. Later in life, he got a job at the local council as a Personnel Manager – he was used to managing people, having worked as a Captain! – and started teaching evening classes at the local college for RYA [Royal Yachting Association] Dayskipper and Yachtmaster Offshore.
Eventually, my father took ill health retirement from the council. When my mum got sick of him hanging around the house, she suggested that he build out the evening classes he was teaching – so he rented a couple of rooms, I helped him with a business plan (I was studying events business management and performing arts at university, at the time), and that was it really.
The transition from performing arts to the maritime industry is quite a leap.
I was brought up on the water – my dad taught me to sail when I was young, on the local operas – 12-foot wooden boats, so called because each is named after an opera.
Still, I was always planning to go into performing arts. But when the School’s Training Manager left, around 3-4 years after the business started, my dad asked me to come back and take the job. I said no – I wasn’t prepared to work for my father! – so we compromised and I agreed to run the business alongside him, as a team.
What is the central aim of the school? Has it evolved at all since its inception?
When my dad set it up, there wasn’t a 10-year plan or anything; it just sort of snowballed, particularly when we got into what are now our key fields – superyachts and workboats. We now have seven office staff and around 40 full- and part-time instructors, who teach courses on everything from First Aid and radio training to engineering courses.
The business has evolved with demand – superyachts have boomed in the last 20 years, and workboats are also increasing in size and becoming more and more ‘techy’ – which all requires more training. Even very experienced workboat crews often need training to be able to work on the new vessels.
You mentioned superyachts and workboats – could you tell us a bit more about the key maritime sectors in which you offer training?
Yes – well when we started, leisure sailors doing RYA courses made up the majority of our clients – but now that’s fallen to about 20% of our business. We do bespoke training for commercial clients like Mersey ferries – but superyachts probably account for about 40% of our clients now, while workboats are about 35%.
Having said that, the demand from workboats is on the up – the sector is enjoying a period of success and that reflects on the demand we’re seeing from operators looking to train their crews.
Part of this success is obviously due to offshore wind. For companies looking to expand into offshore wind, what specific training is required?
The basic training actually doesn’t change – the essentials of driving a boat and the rules of the sea remain the same whether it’s the QE2 or a 30m workboat. It’s like driving on the road; a red light is a red light whether you’re on a motorbike or driving a 30-tonne truck. A large part of our work is navigation and safety training, and this applies to all maritime sectors.
What you do have to be aware of is that a lot of offshore wind work entails transporting people – in CTVs, for example. And people are the most dangerous cargo to transport – more so than oil, toxic chemicals, or anything else – because they do things they’re not supposed to.
Another funny thing we see with offshore wind is that drivers have to learn to berth the vessel bow-on to the the turbine, so that the crew can safely disembark – almost colliding with it, in a controlled manner! Normally, the number one rule we teach students is not to drive into things – so that’s a bit strange for some people!
You recently won an award from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) for supporting it for over two decades – tell us about that.
It was lovely to get that recognition – my father was active in the RNLI and had worked for them as Deputy Launching Authority, and we supported the Institution by selling merchandise at the School. Everyone in a seafaring community knows that they will probably need a lifeboat at some point, so supporting the RNLI was an obvious choice.
For us, it’s nice to help something that isn’t for commercial gain at all – it just exists to help other people. Given my dad’s love for the RNLI, we donated half of the money from his funeral collection to Hoylake Lifeboat Station.
What is the training and skills landscape like at the moment in the workboat industry?
When I was young, apprenticeships were very common and a great way to start your career. But nowadays young people often prefer to get a job in McDonalds. Here in Liverpool, in days gone by, a member of every family went to sea – that just doesn’t happen anymore.
Having said that, the apprenticeships coming through now are great because they are offering new opportunities. And it’s doesn’t have to be young people, either – we see a lot of interest from older people looking to change career, which can only be a good thing.
Have you been involved with the NWA Workboat Apprenticeships at all?
Yes – my dad was nosey so he was on committees for many things, including the apprenticeships. I take after him in that I like to be involved with things. It’s very easy for someone at a desk to make decisions about training requirements, but we’re actually working on the coal face, and when things are put out for consultation, we like to have our say. We want the best for our clients, so we try and help with legislation – as an expert on training, we’re often able to offer advice on what would, and wouldn’t, work well in practice.
We’ve always liked to be involved – my father was on the Training Committee when the Master <500 Workboat CoC was developed and then launched at Seawork, around five or six years ago now. Before then, there was only the Master <200 CoC, so the Master <500 was massively enabling in allowing the industry to grow – quite literally.
The workboat industry is very good at looking after its people. There are lots of smaller companies whose crews are very valuable to them – so they are interested in making sure crews have everything they need, and they invest to make sure crews are well looked-after and well trained.
What about the new requirements for all Masters of CTVs working in German offshore wind to possess a <500GT Near Coastal CoC ?
Well, after the German authority, the BG Verkehr, decided that the UK <500GT Master Workboat CoCand Class 1 Fishing CoCcertificates were insufficient, there was a lot of discussion back and forth – until the agreement that was recently announced.
Having to get this extra qualification may feel like a pain for crews now – but in the long run, it gives them a more valuable qualification and a greater skill set.
As a training provider, we haven’t yet been given an exact specification of what the course should include, to allow Masters to upgrade to the new <500GTNear CoastalCoC.
Once we’ve been informed, we’ll develop the course in line with MCA guidance. The Masters wanting to convert will have already had a lot of training – it’s just a case of bridging the gap in the middle.
How does associate membership of the NWA work? What do you value most about this relationship?
As an Associate Member of the NWA, we don’t vote on things – but we do go to the AGM, and we contribute to the Association by offering our offices for meetings and so on.
There is a mutual benefit; the NWA gives us good visibility and allows us to learn a lot about what crews need, and what companies need for their crews. In turn, the membership can rely on us as a trusted training provider – and we also offer member organisations a discount.
But for us, working with the NWA is much more about being a part of something and able to contribute to the industry.
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