Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Apprentices

Apprentices Wastage 1953

Source: http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1953/mar/16/dockyard-management

Mr. McCorquodale Above all, I should like whoever it may be, the personnel branch, or the personnel officer upgraded, or the labour branch, whatever we may call it, to concentrate now and quickly upon one thing which I think is most serious, and that is the apprenticeship position in the yards. I had hoped that we should have heard something about this, because the Select Committee made very pertinent inquiries 1933 into this matter, and I had hoped that we should have heard something from the mover or seconder of the Amendment about apprentices. I believe that the life-blood of the docks is the flow of apprentices, and that the docks will be efficient or inefficient in so far as they are able or not to train, hold and keep throughout their working lives skilled apprentices, becoming skilled craftsmen working right to the top.

Mr. Albu The right hon. Gentleman has just said he would like to see opportunities for craftsmen coming in and going right through to the top, but one of the reasons we are having a reduction of apprentices is that they cannot get to the top because of the navalisation of the engineering side.

Mr. McCorquodale I am not disagreeing with that at all. I want to see apprentices coming in, with plans made so that there are ample opportunities for them to make their life's work within the naval and the dockyard service. The Admiralty have become very perturbed about the wastage of apprentices, and in the minutes of evidence taken at the end of 1950 the word "appalling" is used by the Admiralty themselves to describe the present apprentice position. I also see in that evidence that a committee was being set up, or was then actively working on the subject of apprentices. I do not know whether that committee ever reported, but from such inquiries as I have been able to make I find that the apprentice wastage today is just as bad as, if not worse than, it was two years ago when the Select Committee made their inquiries.

Now, why is this? It is different, of course, in different grades. A greater number of draughtsmen stay in than electrical engineers, and so on. When the Admiralty obtain apprentices they take considerable care to teach them, and so far as I have heard there is little or no criticism against the quality of teaching given in the schools run by the dockyards for their apprentices. But there is nothing like the same concentration upon the other activities of the apprentices living in hostels, as to who is supervising them, who is giving them opportunities for games, and so on, not within their schooling or dockyard activities.

I am not criticising the Admiralty in any way for the teaching given to the 1934 apprentices, but I think that one of the jobs of the welfare officer, upgraded and with adequate staff, should be to see to the whole life of these young boys coming into the dockyards, many of them living in hostels provided and managed by the dockyards. That should be a major care of the dockyard authorities.

If we look closely into the wastage of apprentices we see that the great bulk of it occurs after the boys have done National Service. They do not come back to the dockyards; or they come back to the dockyards for a very few months while they are passing on to another job. It seems an extraordinary thing that the Admiralty, who through the dockyards spend a great deal of money on each one of these apprentices I have seen the figure of £1,000 suggested, although I do not know whether it is right or not during the course of four or five years at the school run by the dockyard, being taught jobs in the different departments of that dockyard, should let such an apprentice go to the Army or the Air Force for his National Service and so be lost to the Navy.

One would have thought that anybody considering the likelihood of the wastage of apprentices would have thought it would be very much better to plan out the life they hope the apprentices will be able to carry on after they have obtained their skill by tying them, so far as is convenient, or at any rate offering them facilities for staying either in the dockyards or in Her Majesty's Navy. I believe that if these skilled young men were, on reaching the time for their National Service, immediately offered the opportunity to practise their trades in Her Majesty's Navy they would accept with alacrity.

After all, why have they come to the dockyards if it is not the attraction of the work? They would accept with alacrity; they would get into the ways of the sea, and, at the end of their National Service, if they could not stay on in the Navy they would be anxious to come back to the dockyards and continue their work with the ships they know. I have discussed this matter with those who know more about it than I do. They tell me that it would be perfectly possible to do this, but would mean reorganisation of some of the activities of the Navy. What would be 1935 required, I think, would be an extension of the use of repair ships so that these young men shipwrights, electrical engineers, and so on would be at sea on the repair ships or in harbours overseas doing the work which is now done in the dockyards.

That is exactly what would be required in war-time. Repairs done to ships from repair ships instead of their being sent back to the dockyards would be valuable training for the Fleet, as well as providing admirable work for these young apprentices, and would be an encouragement to them to go back to the dockyards afterwards. I urge the Admiralty to consider this matter, because I believe that the adjective "appalling," used by the Admiralty spokesman in connection with this matter, should not be allowed to apply for a moment longer than is necessary.

I have spoken for far too long and there are others who wish to take part in the debate. I hope that they will urge the Government to give the men in the dockyards better welfare facilities, to give the management more up-to-date machinery and more senior supervisors in the managers' departments. I would also urge them to pay more attention to the apprentices and their Service career. I believe that by doing so we shall save the taxpayers' money, and we shall improve still further the great organisation of Her Majesty's dockyards.

Finally, I would say that, whether we agree or disagree about the precise methods of top management, the dockyards have done and are doing a very wonderful job. I believe that the majority of the men employed in them many of whom could get into outside industry jobs carrying higher remuneration are heart and soul anxious to do their best not only in honour of their own dockyards but for the honour of the Navy and of the country. Let us, whatever our criticisms, wish all employed in the dockyards, from the ground floor to the top, the very best of luck and Godspeed in their work.

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