Pendennis chairs British superyacht collaboration for new Surface Finishing Apprenticeship standards

Since August 2020, government-mandated changes to the way apprenticeships are delivered and assessed have required all apprenticeship courses to be re-written by employer-led groups. This has led to collaborations between major UK superyacht builders and marine companies as they work together to re-design various marine apprenticeships.

For each apprenticeship to continue after the changes came into effect, a group of at least 10 employers from the occupation needed to work together to develop the new structure for it, called standards, and have them approved by IFATE (Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education). The standards are aimed at ensuring the focus of learning is aimed beyond passing the course and onto preparing for a career, which is why – as the ones who know best what will be required of an apprentice in their career – employers are being asked to design them.

Steve Hancock, Training Manager at Pendennis Shipyard, is chair of the Surface Finishing Apprenticeship group. Having honed our General Apprenticeship Scheme since 1998 and Surface Finishing Apprenticeship since 2005, Pendennis’ commitment to training apprentices is evident, with a 90% retention rate following graduation and many ex-apprentices progressing to management positions. Steve has contributed to several other trailblazer groups including Marine Engineering and Pipe Fitting, but in 2019 he became aware that one hadn’t been set up for Surface Finishing, and unless one was, the current Surface Finishing Apprenticeship would no longer be able to run.

The group which then assembled included Berthon Yachts, Sunseeker, Cockwells, Princess Yachts and the RNLI, and has been working with British Marine and IFATE on the new standards for well over a year.

“This has been a huge collaborative project, and what’s amazing is that every one of the companies on board has volunteered their time and committed to readying this new programme for delivery. There were a lot of criteria that needed to be met for it to be approved, and there was also an evolving nature to the process which necessitated a great deal of liaising between our group and IFATE.

It was a tough process at times, of course exacerbated by COVID-19. Elements such as compiling the list of duties that make up a surface finisher’s role were challenging due to the scope of organisations in the group. This presented complications as there are different processes used across organisations, for example the differences between gel coating compared to hand finishing.

Later in 2020 we found we needed to expand the new standard to include options for the high end automotive and aviation sectors. This involved more online meetings to resolve the requirements for core duties (those essential for all sectors) and the sector pathway options which will allow an apprentice to choose the marine, auto or aviation specialisation.”

In April 2021, supported by Ulrika Lawrence, Training Executive at the British Marine Federation, Steve presented the new proposal to the Standards Approval Panel which included members from IFATE and employers representing industry. Shortly after, the proposed standard was confirmed as being fit for purpose and the group could continue with the next stage of development. This includes seeking Provider delivery, agreeing the value of the new programme and completing the End Point Assessment process. The work is ongoing, but it is only a matter of time before the new standard can be rolled out.

Steve thinks the updated course structure will have great benefits:

“The pending outcome is very exciting – there will now be a respected, recognised career path for high-end marine surface finishers. The superyacht industry is so specialist and requires precise and bespoke skills. The new standards cover more specific criteria than the old frameworks had and having been designed by us, they are completely tailored to our industry. An apprentice joining this course will benefit from a clear pathway and have confidence in their future. As employers we can ensure our apprentices meet the level of excellence needed to maintain our world class standards.

Another great side to the process was the increased communication between the organisations taking part, and the relationships we have developed. With the challenging times we all experienced in the last 18 months this was invaluable.”

The British Marine Federation’s Ulrika Lawrence commented:

“It’s fantastic to see the progress of the Trailblazer group on the surface finisher apprenticeship standard. We are fortunate to be able to bring together a like-minded group of employers to develop a high-quality standard on a purely voluntary basis. As the Chair of the group, Steve has done a brilliant job pushing this development forward, especially in the challenging circumstances that the COVID-19 pandemic presented us with.

This is another positive step in the right direction for high quality apprenticeship training – the surface finisher standard helps to ensure continued access to entry points for careers in the marine industry. This new standard will sit nicely alongside the marina and boatyard operative, boat builder, marine engineer and marine electrician standards developed by the Trailblazer groups.”

Pendennis’ Surface Finishing apprenticeship scheme is due to commence in Autumn 2021. For more information visit