TWENTY-FIVE students from Whitsunday senior schools are the first in a new generation of commercial skippers, trained under an innovative scheme.
The students have gained a Certificate II in Maritime Operations – Coxswain Grade 1 Near Coastal, allowing them to command a commercial vessel less than 12 metres long, in inshore waters.
On Friday (November 3) the Grade 11 and 12 students from Proserpine State High School, St Catherine’s Catholic College and Bowen State High School completed their final practical session before qualifying as Coxswains.
The new scheme was developed by Red Cat Adventures owner Asher Telford, in response to the widespread housing crisis and staff shortages in the Whitsundays’ marine and tourism industry.
“When I came up with this idea, staff levels were critical but, at the same time, we were facing a housing crisis, so even if skippers applied for our jobs, they were typically from out-of-town and couldn’t find accommodation,” Mr Telford said.
“Meanwhile, we had local school students asking for work experience. I thought ‘well the local kids are here, they’re already embedded in the community, all they need is the training and opportunities to work in their own slice of paradise’.
“The housing crisis wasn’t going to be fixed in one year, but maybe in that time we could address the crew crisis instead, and there was a government body out there who could help.”
That ‘body’ was the Queensland Government’s Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, and the government-funded Vocational Education and Training in Schools (VETiS) program, through which students gain nationally recognised qualifications while still at school.
Through VETiS, students could be subsidised for components of a year-long, specially tailored Coxswain’s course, with sea-time provided aboard working vessels in Mr Telford’s Red Cat Adventures tourism fleet.
The Whitsunday Maritime Training Centre (WMTC) delivered the tuition, with four terms of classroom training at the Whitsunday Sailing Club.
Achieving the required sea-time for a Coxswain licence often proves the stumbling block for students who have otherwise successfully completed classroom components.
“I wanted to see these students trained in real life situations on real working boats, not just in a classroom setting and then dropped into the industry,” Mr Telford said.
“I also wanted to show our region’s young people that the maritime industry is up there with the mines as a satisfying career path.”