Interview: Lorna Wagner


Here’s a question: what is the difference between the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy? The answer: unfortunately, too many people have no idea. In a survey of careers professionals carried out by Maritime UK, only 23% knew the difference.

You can’t know what you don’t know, says Lorna Wagner – but she is determined to change that and get the maritime message across.

In a whirlwind of videos, Zoom CPD sessions, case studies and network building, Lorna is making her presence felt as Maritime UK’s Programme Manager (Careers and Outreach).

On 4 May, Lorna sat down in her lockdown office (the kitchen table) with a fresh notebook and got to work. Now engaged on a contract shared between Solent LEP and Maritime UK, Lorna previously worked for Eastleigh Technical and Professional College, in Hampshire, providing student support services – including being Careers Leader.

“I have been tasked with building on the careers work already done by Maritime UK,” she says. “It all goes back to the Maritime 2050 strategy – the industry is growing and set to double in size, but we have a skills gap.

“One of my first tasks was to write a strategic plan for the programme, reflecting the priorities identified in Maritime 2050 and the People Route Map. This strategic plan clearly identifies our core audience and the organisations we need to work with to meet our targets. All of my work is – and will be – based on the priorities and measurables set out.”

She is happy to admit that as a highly qualified careers adviser, maritime had simply not been on her own radar before.

“Eastleigh is only six miles from Southampton Docks – and yet there I was as Careers Leader with no idea how big the maritime sector was or how we should be encouraging young people to look towards it for career opportunities,” she says. “Now I am so excited about helping young people and job seekers gain an understanding of, and want to join, the maritime sector.”

Lorna started by reaching out to careers advisers and leaders via social media, first with the aforementioned survey, to establish the level of understanding and find out what was needed. Questions ranged from ‘how confident are you in your own knowledge about opportunities within the sector?’ and ‘do you think young people realise you can be employed in the maritime sector and not go to sea?’, to ‘would you be able to name any employers from the ports/shipping/shipbuilding, engineering and marine science industries?’.

Based on the results, Lorna has created CPD webinars for the Careers Professionals’ Network, which (at the time of writing) already has 204 members signed up.

“My guess was that most careers advisers would tell you exactly the same – they didn’t realise what there was in maritime. I haven’t been surprised by the answers to the survey,” she says.

She has been talking to local authorities, LEPs, careers enterprise companies (tasked by Government with improving the standard of careers guidance), and the devolved careers services of Wales and Scotland.

Already, two CPD sessions have been run via Zoom, for careers professionals from secondary schools, six-form colleges, FE colleges, universities and local authorities. More will follow.

Lasting about 90 minutes, the sessions included presentations and video content provided by Ian Mackinnon, secretary of the Maritime Skills Alliance; Rachel Gurnett, who is responsible for the Merchant Navy Training Board’s Careers at Sea brand; Darrell Bate, interim director of seafarer learning at the Marine Society and Sea Cadets (MSSC); Blue Davies, head of training at British Marine; and Karen Waltham, a specialist independent maritime HR consultant.

The first session attracted 29 attendees and the second one had 40.

“We have had tremendously positive feedback from these two sessions, with attendees finding them interesting, informative and helpful,” says Lorna. “We asked them to set to mute during the majority of the session, and the presenters were open to questions which were generally asked via the chat bar. There were a lot of questions.”

Future sessions are planned, to include a focus on areas such as ports and logistics, harbour and working boats, and careers in maritime business.

On the Maritime UK website, meanwhile, new videos have been popping up on a weekly basis, to support teachers and pupils in a range of topics, academic subjects and careers guidance. “We have 12 videos so far, covering topics as diverse as navigating using bearings and instruments, global trade, greener boating, microplastics and the impact on the sea, shipbroking and how to get a job in conservation,” says Lorna. “The viewings are adding up fast and we continue to promote these through social media.”

A key priority in the careers and outreach strategy is to raise the profile of careers opportunities for young people. Lorna has created a Careers Campaign Partners toolkit which provides tools, resources and support for organisations and companies that sign up to the campaign, to support Maritime UK in careers events, run their own events and use the same branding.

She is also working to develop Maritime UK’s ambassador network, which was set to get more maritime professionals and experts – both active and retired – into careers events in schools. Maritime UK has taken the decision to work with the independent charity Education and Employers, which has a database of 1,000 schools and colleges across the country that use its website to book support for careers events.

“Education and Employers will help us to build our ambassador network and are advertising and promoting this on our behalf,” says Lorna. “The schools and colleges can book people via the website for guest speakers, careers events, mock interviews, CV checks and other needs.”

Having made the decision to invest in this direction, Maritime UK is putting out a ‘call to action’ to the industry. “We are seeking to recruit more expert ambassadors to join us as volunteers to speak to young people and job seekers. Given all that is happening in the economy at present, this is a vital step for the industry as it seeks to attract more young people and job seekers.”

Meanwhile, she is also gearing up for Maritime UK Week starting on 12 October. A week of celebrations for the sector, to include a major element of careers activities, this was planned long before the Covid-19 pandemic. Maritime UK Week will go ahead on a virtual basis. The agenda is expected to include virtual school trips to ports, shipyards and other sites, Maritime UK ambassadors talking to schools and colleges, a series of diversity workshops and CPD sessions. The possibility of a virtual careers event is being explored and the involvement of museums is another interesting possibility.

Lorna says that when working in education, she often find herself talking to people who were disengaged from what they were doing – for example, teachers ‘who should have moved on to do something else’.

“However, in my first three months in maritime I have been blown away by the eagerness, positivity and can-do attitude in the sector. The people we are talking to are so passionate and committed. When I say to them ‘Can you do X?’, what I get is ‘Yes, I can help – or I can put you in touch with someone else who can’.”

She is determined to make this relevant – for example, by creating careers videos that showcase all the different industries and cover all the regions.

“The maritime industry is bigger than rail and air combined in the UK, and there are very well-paid jobs within it. The sector is doing so much work on green issues. And there is a massive push to attract people in. If this time next year we have half of young people with an idea of what maritime is about – Happy days!”

Lorna Wagner joined Maritime UK in April 2020 to lead the sector's national careers campaign.