Not all men want to follow in their father’s footsteps – young Martin Laffey DID but feared he’d never get the opportunity.
His dad, granddad and great-granddad all worked in shipyards on the Tyne when the river was renowned for building vessels so impressive they were household names.
From the mid-80s, more than two decades of decline brought the industry to its knees and the traditional skills used by generations of Geordies to build world-class vessels like the supertanker Esso Northumbria and HMS Ark Royal were in danger of dying out.
But thanks to companies like A&P Tyne, who have restored their apprenticeship scheme, those crucial skills are now being rescued and revived.
And Martin, 23, who lives in Hebburn, not far from the Tyneside HQ of the A&P Group, has made his parents, Martin and Jackie, and his employers proud, by being shortlisted for the Outstanding Achievement by a First Year Apprentice Award.
EEF (Engineering Employers Federation), who sponsor the coveted award, will announce the winner of the North East final at a ceremony in Leeds on November 16 and if Martin were to win he would gain automatic entry to the National Awards, held in London in December.
Martin, an apprentice welder, said: “I come from a long line of shipyard workers and I’m very proud to be able to carry on the tradition.
“When my dad, granddad and great-granddad left school there were lots of yards and it wasn’t difficult to get started and train to become a skilled tradesman. But that all changed and I honestly never thought I’d get the opportunity.”
Martin was working at the yard last year as a general labourer for a sub-contractor when he heard A&P were looking for a new intake of apprentices.
“I was over the moon when I got accepted last September. There aren’t many apprenticeships around and for those there are there’s a lot of competition. I was at college for six months and it was great, learning exactly what we needed to do, but starting at the yard in April was brilliant.
“The sheer size of the vessels that come in is so impressive and the fabrication shed is as big as the ships or air craft carriers that we work on.
“We’ve been in the training school at the yard most of the time but recently I got my first welder qualifications certificate, which qualifies me to work on a section for the new Royal Navy aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, so I have done some small pieces of work.
“It will be a great feeling to see her after she’s launched and know that I’ve been part of it. I’m especially pleased because my dad worked on the Ark Royal at Swan Hunters and now I’m involved on the ship that is going to replace her. It’s a nice link, I’m glad I got the chance to continue the tradition.”
Marcel Lundy, training co-ordinator at A&P Tyne, said Martin, who is the eldest of the yard’s 19 apprentice welders and fabricators, had “exceeded all expectations.”
The company took on the first new apprentices for several years in 2008 and recruited another last September.
On successful completion of their four-year apprenticeship, the lads, aged between 16-23, are awarded a certificate to show they are time-served, fully-fledged tradesmen.
Marcel said: “It is imperative we invest in developing our workforce and transfer the existing skills and knowledge of our current employees to future generations.
“By developing a flexible workforce with greater skills sets enables us to stay competitive in the current turbulent economic climate.”
He added: “There is a real risk of losing these skills, to find them you now have to search further and further afield. It’s crucial they are passed on. It’s nice to see young blood coming back into the business and driving it forward.
“Martin has grasped the opportunity to undertake an apprenticeship with both hands. His attitude and motivation have been outstanding and his determination to succeed has had a positive impact on all the other young apprentices.
“I am very pleased his achievements have been recognised and wish him the best of luck in the final.”
Managing director at A&P Tyne, Stewart Boak, added: “We understand that a high standard has been achieved this year and therefore we are all extremely proud that Martin has made it through to apprentice of the year.”
The A&P Group is the largest ship repair and conversion company in the UK. The Tyne yard is currently working on a £55m order to build parts for two new aircraft carriers and a prestigious contract to refit two former Royal Navy offshore vessels for the Bangladeshi Navy.