Thesis shows many trainees are treated badly

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Poor guidance, too little information and too many hours of work are some of the problems that marine engineer students often encounter during their placements on board, as described in a thesis from the Marine Officer Academy in Kalmar.

Marine engineer students Johan Granlund and Carl Persson at the Marine Officer Academy in Kalmar both felt there was room for improvement during their on-board training. The information they were given on the ship during their placement was inadequate and there were rarely any plans for what they would do while they were on board, so when the time came for their dissertation last spring they decided to investigate how other marine engineer students had experienced their placements. The results were described in a report entitled, ”Oh, you’re starting today, are you?” which received a prize for best dissertation.

“When we read the respondents’ answers, we realized that it was not only we who had experienced these shortcomings, it was actually a majority of students,” says Carl Persson, who graduated in June and is now looking for work.

Long working days
If an employer and student reach an agreement on employment, students on board can work 20 hours a week and spend 40 hours on the student manual. However, answers to the questionnaire showed that the overwhelming majority (15 out of 18) worked more than the agreed hours. The worst case was a student who worked 12 hours a day for 114 consecutive days.

“Students often work like the ordinary crewmembers. Some do it because they want to, others because they don’t dare to say no. They are afraid that it might affect their grades or would give them a bad name in shipping,” says Carl.

One recurrent comment from respondents was that they mostly spent time swabbing the deck and doing other menial tasks. Half of the respondents felt they would have got more out of the placement if they had been given more useful work.

“Both Johan and I felt that we would have been able to learn a lot more if there had been a development plan,” says Carl. “You got the impression that the crews regarded us as extra labour rather than students who were there to learn, which of course is not right since we don’t get paid.”

Eleven of 18 respondents said that they were not treated any worse because they were students. Five had been treated worse on certain ships, where they were harassed or excluded. One chief engineer refused to greet the students and one respondent was never called by his name, only as “student”. Others heard comments such as, “You’re only a student, you know nothing…what are you even doing down here?” or bad jokes like, ”It doesn’t matter if the student dies, we’ll have a new one in a couple of weeks.”

“I think there are two things that make some people act this way. One is that they haven’t read enough about how to be a good seafarer during their training. The other is that this type of behaviour is a knee-jerk reaction among certain officers. Some supervisors were maybe treated badly as students and they pass it on to others,” says Carl.

Most of the respondents did not think that their experience of training would put them off a career at sea. Some had expected an even tougher atmosphere on the ships and were pleasantly surprised, but only six respondents said they would consider working on one of the ships they had trained on. Four stated that they no longer wanted to work at sea as a result of their experiences on board. For their own part, both Carl Persson and Johan Granlund are hoping for a future career on the waves.

“Even though there is lot to improve in the practical training, I enjoyed the time on board and I like working at sea,” says Carl Persson. “It has become a little more difficult to find jobs in these COVID-19 days, but I hope to find work on a ship soon.”

Linda Sundgren

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