The first female chair of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers’ local branch has spoken about the opportunities within an industry too often overlooked by thousands of Teesside teenagers.
By her own admission, Nikki Sayer’s 20-plus-year love affair with the shipping industry started by accident as a YTS trainee at British Steel.
Fed up after a stint in accounts, the moment she stepped into the unknown, male-dominated world of ships she was hooked.
“It was full-on and I love full-on,” she said. “The phones going constantly, speaking to people all over the world. I loved it from day one and I just knew it was for me.”
It was a male-dominated workplace then and it remains so today. But Nikki, the first female chair of the North-East branch of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers, remains determined to try to change all that.
She has travelled the globe and returned to her beloved Tees to help create a pathway to a career which is ignored by thousands of Teesside teenagers every year.
In partnership with Stockton Riverside College, the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers has created the first dedicated shipping school outside London on the banks of the Tees, bringing together the region’s employers, industry experts and educators to demystify the shipping sector and put it on the careers’ map.
Nikki said the school aims to tackle current and future skill gaps and develop a future skilled workforce whose careers may start in Tees Valley but can take them across the globe.
She said: “When you go to school here, you look out and see the ships waiting to come in, but you don’t learn anything about them. Unless your family is in shipping, you grow up in blissful ignorance, and yet it’s here.
“Ninety-five per cent of everything that comes into this country is by ship. Yet no one puts the connection between all the trucks and the rail carrying goods from shipping. Trainers, shoes, bags, gloves, you name it.
“When we show kids the map of all the ships at sea, they can’t believe how many vessels are out there, all requiring attention and tracking.
“We need to tell them, ‘We are here, a massive industry, in the heart of the region, loads of jobs, qualifications, opportunities to travel the world or work here.
“It’s difficult finding school leavers who want to join the shipping industry because they don’t understand it. It’s a hidden industry and I want to give people a choice and a chance to join us.
“We want a pool of qualified talent. Unless you go to Tees Port, you don’t know it’s there. The Tees is 85 miles and the seventh largest river in the country and the North-East is the only region outside London which exports more than it imports, so we have a little golden nugget here and need to keep spreading the message.”
Nikki’s day job is with the UK’s leading independent port agency company, Casper Shipping, formed in 1872 and based less than a mile downriver from the Riverside Stadium.
Casper is one of 76 North-East members of the institute and she is pushing for new recruits, just as Howard Dodds, Nikki’s first boss at British Steel, pushed her into the industry’s only professional exams all those years ago.
The institute also delivers its TutorShip educational programme directly from its London head office and through 15 teaching centres worldwide. Every year, thousands of students sit professional qualifying examinations and can then apply for membership.
Nikki added: “It’s tough and a commitment but it is the best thing I ever did. It got me jobs, helped me travel the world, and hopefully make a difference here.
“That’s the good thing about the shipping school. If you can show you are even aware of the industry, you are guaranteed an interview and you will get snapped up.
“I have always loved the job, but I can see the benefit of anybody – man or woman – getting involved. I am certainly proud I’ve got this far because this is not an industry for shy and retiring types.”