At the beginning of the year, Ben Ainslie Racing announced a new project with City College Southampton to build two specialised docking ribs. A team of 80 apprentices have been working hard at the College’s Marine Skills Centre ever since. Just over two months into the project, National Apprenticeship Week was a good time for an update from City College’s Darren Patten.
‘We have laminated all the internal structural components for both Boat One and Boat Two. We have the first deck finished, and we’re working on constructing the second deck. The hull of Boat One will be out of the mould in the next two weeks and we’ll start Boat Two. I’m very happy that everything is going to schedule.’
The docking rib has been developed from those used at the 34th America’s Cup to help berth the AC45 and AC62 that compete in the Cup events. The ribs have a highly innovative design, powered by a centrally positioned outboard that can be rotated through 360 degrees to push the boat in any direction.
‘We’ve got great feedback from the employers of our apprentices that the students are really enthusiastic about this project,’ added Patten. ‘They’ve been telling everyone at their workplace about it. We see it here too, I looked at the clock one morning, and realised that we had worked through tea break, and none of them had stopped. That didn’t use to happen, I think it’s partly because this is a high-profile job, but it’s also because we’re building an actual boat.’
It may seem strange, but building boats is not normally part of a boat building apprenticeship. Patten explained that the City and Guilds qualification normally requires assessment of work that’s directly attributable to an individual student – and that’s not easy when they are all working together on a boat. So students have previously worked individually on single, smaller pieces of the whole.
“The difficulty then is for the student to see the relevance of that to the bigger picture of building a boat,” explained Patten. “So in taking on this project, we have had to change the way we assess the qualification. We have taken a lead from the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) where students are assessed in the workplace. We spoke to the external verifier from City and Guilds very early about this change, and we discussed the ways that we were recording information. He was very positive.”
So was first year boat-building apprentice Tommy Yates, ‘This is a great opportunity, it gives us a bit of experience, it’s a chance to take a real project on and I’m glad I’m here helping out. I’ve made the bulkheads, laminating them, building the mould.’
City College’s young apprentices are working away on the shores of the River Itchen, right on the spot where the trail-blazing Spitfire fighter plane was first brought to life by Supermarine in the 1930s. Now they may be quietly trail-blazing a path of their own to a different type of learning for the apprentices that follow them.
‘It’s something we will use in the future,’ concluded Patten. ‘The project based assessment is something that we can get everybody involved in. We should be building boats. It’s much more engaging for students to be involved in this kind of activity, if we talk about things in isolation, we can lose their interest. This could benefit all colleges – it may well be a useful tool for other people. Employers are always looking at the relevance of what we teach the apprentices, how relevant the work they do here is to the real world. And of course, something like this is an industry standard construction project, so it could not fit the bill any better.’
The Docking Ribs are due for completion in May, and will start operation when BAR moves into its new purpose-built headquarters in Portsmouth.
VIDEO: 80 City College Apprentices Get to Work for BAR: http://bit.ly/1FXDhIq