The very model of a graduate opportunity

Cruise ships combine elements of the engineering and leisure industries

Passenger ships make up only a small percentage of the tonnage plying the world's waterways - yet they offer some of the most exciting opportunities around for graduates interested in a life at sea.

"This is the nice end of the British merchant navy," says Don Millar, training manager with P&O Cruises which is part of cruise industry giant Carnival. "Here you have these beautiful white ships, cruising up and down, going to nice places."

Most seafaring recruits, both deck and engineering officers, will work their way up through the vocational route of the cadetship, a three-year programme which mixes classroom studies with time at sea. From here a young cadet with aspirations to make captain can work their way - albeit slowly - up the ladder.

"If you wanted to be a brain surgeon it would be a lot quicker than becoming a captain on a P&O cross-channel ferry," says Brian Reese of P&O Ferries. "Dover to Calais is the busiest bit of water on the planet. It takes time at sea to develop the qualifications and experience to work one of our intensive routes."

For many following that route, a degree is not necessarily an advantage. However, in common with many businesses, the industry is keen to attract more recruits at graduate level and most companies will encourage new entrants to add additional qualifications to the CV. Cadets who join Saga Shipping's cruise line, for example, can elect to take a Maritime Studies degree, which involves an additional year on the three-year course. And P&O Cruises offers a fast-track scheme for graduates who hold a degree in mechanical engineering. The programme follows the basic outline of a standard Engineering Cadetship but is completed in just 13 months.

Engineers are particularly in demand. "The deck officer route is always very popular but it's more difficult to recruit engineers," says Millar. "I think people still think it's about stoking coal."

It's not just keeping these vast floating towns smoothly afloat that requires marine engineering skills. Vast cruise ships like the new Queen Mary II are a triumph of marine engineering and design - and moving a vessel like that from drawing board to shipyard to ocean wave requires very specialist skills. "People think that because there aren't many shipyards left in the UK there are no job opportunities in marine engineering and so the pool of graduates is shrinking," says Professor Pandeli Temarel of the University of Southampton's School of Ship Science, which can count among its alumni the designer of the new QMII. "But the fact is we have moved up a level in this country and marine engineers now work at the high end - on the technology, tools and design of the ships - and someone else, in Indonesia or China, builds them. It's a completely different ball game," says Temarel.

Marine engineers are also in strong demand from the classification societies, the organisations charged with assessing the safety of cruise ships and ferries, checking that they comply with fire, safety, pollution and security regulations. Lloyd's Register, which employs 4,000 people worldwide, has a fast-track graduate recruitment programme that puts its engineers through two years of training and two years of development.

It's not just engineers who are in demand in the fast-growing passenger shipping industry, however. Cruise ships - and ferries - combine elements of both the shipping and leisure industries.

To cater for the growing sophistication and scale of the cruise industry, the University of Plymouth has introduced a new cruise ship management degree programme. "It's still embryonic but we expect it to grow," explains Paul Wright, lecturer in maritime business at the University of Plymouth.

The shore-side corporate end of the cruise and ferry business requires graduates skilled in leisure, retail and marketing not to mention law, IT, logistics, accounting and business development.

"One of the areas we most need graduates is to work as analysts, particularly in revenue management, market research and analysis, and pricing," explains David Dingle, managing director of Carnival UK. "We find that recruiting high-calibre people in those areas is quite difficult, particularly those with good maths and statistical backgrounds. We also have a large and very active IT department that requires good graduates."

For those with itchy feet, it's a business that also offers incredible travel opportunities. "We have operations on the east and west coasts of America, Germany, Italy and Australia," says Dingle. "It's an industry with a huge amount of opportunity across the world, a truly global business and a very exciting one to be a part of."

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