As part of National Apprenticeship Week 2023, we’ve spoken to Fran Johnson, Managing Director at Stone Marine Shipcare, who started his career off as an apprentice. Here he explains why he choose to take up an apprenticeship, and how he has progressed to Managing Director…
How did you start off your career?
I began my career at Stone Manganese Marine back in 1996 on a work experience placement. I was there for a week and was totally overawed by the magnitude of the work being carried out. I remember the sounds and smell of the foundry. We were still casting the biggest propellers in the world here in Birkenhead at that time. I remember the casting, sparks flying and the metal pouring from ladles into huge propeller moulds.
When you’re 16 and have only really seen the inside of a classroom, it was a big eye opener. I remember engineers going travelling to all parts of the world to fit and repair propellers on vessels and those coming back having completed their work and telling their tales of the docks, hotels, and interesting people they’d met along the way. I was sold!
Instantly I wanted to know how to do things – and soon learned that there was a lot involved – a lot of technicalities, measuring systems and calculations and there were lifetimes of experience to listen to and learn from.
At that time it all boiled down to maths and English and paying attention – there were very few computers involved, those that were used were nothing like those we use today and there was a lot of reading. After that it was all about understanding how it applied to what I was starting to learn about.
All of the service work that we carry out today is governed by strict rules and regulations and these need to be understood.
I was lucky to be offered a place on an apprentice scheme as a trainee Service Technician.
I remember on day one I was given a brush and spent the morning making a lot of tea but that very quickly changed. Still, it was almost two years before I got anywhere near an aeroplane, firstly learning my trade in the workshop on local repairs. Starting out as a field service engineer I then moved through the ranks to hold the positions of Works Supervisor, Operations Manager, and Operations Director before being appointed as Managing Director of Stone Marine Shipcare in 2019 & Stone Marine Services UK & Africa in 2022.
Why did you choose to do an apprenticeship?
I had always had an affinity for engineering and understanding mechanical things – I don’t know why. And I think I found school was dull more than difficult because I never understood why I was learning all of these subjects. With the apprenticeship I could see the applications of maths, referring to manuals and calculation tables suddenly began to come together and make sense so learning through an apprenticeship suited me. Of course, I still had to study and there were weekly college attendances during the apprenticeship but when I could see the point of what I was learning it made more sense to me.
What does your everyday role consist of?
I have responsibility for 4 companies in 4 countries and on two continents so there is always a wide scope of business that crosses my desk but fundamentally it is my responsibility to ensure we are working safely and efficiently, looking for ways to grow and exceed the expectations of our customers and our owners.
Our personnel and their experience is the foundation of our strength, listening to staff and allowing ideas to evolve has also brought several new approaches to issues that we were facing.
What would you say to others interested in applying for an apprenticeship?
I would highly recommend applying for an apprenticeship, especially within the maritime industry.
It’s such a vast industry, we have people working in workshops, shipyards and in offices, but we also rely on technicians in laboratories and metallurgists in foundries – the scope of the maritime industry is both technical and professional services.
Apprenticeships are a great way of getting hands-on experience and developing skills in a practical environment, whilst also learning the theory behind the work.
It’s also a great way of starting your career in the engineering world without necessarily going down the University path.