Your Local Broker, Internationally

Berthon UK
(Lymington, Hampshire - UK)

Sue Grant
0044 (0)1590 679 222

Berthon France
(Mandelieu La Napoule, France)

Bruno Kairet
0033 (0)4 93 63 66 80

Berthon Scandinavia
(Henån, Sweden)

Magnus Kullberg
0046 304 694 000

Berthon Spain
(Palma de Mallorca, Spain)

Simon Turner
0034 639 701 234

Berthon USA
(Rhode Island, USA)

Jennifer Stewart
001 401 846 8404

Mending the Marine Industry Skills Gap

By Keith Longman

EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION – Boat Company Yard Manager Keith Longman has a busy and varied role at Berthon. However, by far the most important task that he has, is to articulate and deliver Berthon’s core mission of training young people via an Apprenticeship Programme that has been in operation since the 1800s or maybe even before. He is also responsible for the rest of the Berthon crew and their development. Many of the Team have been at Berthon since they joined as apprentices, and he also manages the challenges of staff retention and an aging workforce. These challenges are far from unique to Berthon, and Keith is actively working with industry partners and Government to understand the common problems and to put in place the infrastructure needed for the industry to thrive and grow in an international context.


Berthon has been in the marine industry for a very long time. A family owned business, it was formed in 1877, has been in the same hands since 1917, and the fourth generation of the owners, the May family, work here today. My office is in a facility that was built in the late 1990s, but people have been building boats here since Roman times. We have 90 skilled craftsman on the shop floor including 20 apprentices. Berthon has all the skills in-house to fulfil the needs of our leisure and commercial customers including servicing, refits, repairs, and in-service support. Our apprenticeship programme is vital to that as it trains the next generation of Marine engineers, Marine electricians, Shipwrights, Yacht sprayers, Riggers and Boatmovers. We also offer training to graduates in both Project Management and in other parts of the Berthon Group. On site here in Lymington, we have a crew of 150 with a 250 berth deep water marina, outboard and small yacht distributor, pontoon builder, RIB sales operation and the Berthon Sales Group. This company has a sales office and service operation in Palma and sales offices in Sweden and on the East Coast of the USA. Berthon is a diverse business with high standards and offers varied careers and career advancement for the right candidates.


The Marine Industry is suffering from a skills gap and the UK Shipbuilding Skills Taskforce of which I am a member, released a report in September 2023 to identify how we can overcome this. Shipbuilding has great need of key science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) skills, in order to narrow the gap. Of course, these skills are needed across the economy, so it is important that a collaborative approach be adopted between Government and our industry to champion Shipbuilding.

What we have not been good at is to articulate effectively to the wider public what an exciting industry we are, and so we need to work hard to show them that it is high-tech, sustainable, and inclusive, as well as importantly – being fun! Our Apprenticeship Programmes and other initiatives which I will mention later are key to leveraging the skills system. Gaining the skills are one thing. Keeping up to date with new technologies to remain competitive as an industry is another, which is why at Berthon we place enormous emphasis on keeping the training going both internally and externally throughout the careers of the whole Team.



  • Persuading not only the students but also teachers that an apprenticeship is a worthwhile career path and challenging the group think of university as the preferred career path.
  • The frequent career changes that are a feature of life today. It is not unusual for people to change job every two to three years. We are in the business of investing in our people, and this makes it difficult when people leave after a relatively short period over which we have invested heavily in them in improving their skill set.
  • A side effect of frequent job moves is that in many cases the skills that would be honed by those in a long-term position with a career path and constant training at Berthon, are not found in those recruits who join us fully trained. We operate a skills matrix with six levels of defined progression and routes into charge hand and upwards. These progression routes coupled with excellent rates of pay and conditions, means we can attract experienced employees from other companies onto Berthon skilled Level 1. Of course, the potential to upskill and improve is here for them, but it takes varying amounts of time which is challenging for the business.
  • Longevity of service is something that we are fortunate to enjoy at Berthon with many of our people. One of our senior shipwrights has retired this year after 50 years at Berthon. He will be much missed not only because he is a friend to many here, but also because those years of experience and knowhow will be lost to us. We have many very skilled crafts people, but our older cohorts have a deep understanding that only comes with decades on the floor doing it.
  • Post apprenticeship we do lose people into super yachting, and into other industries. A time served Berthon technician is attractive on the jobs market. Of course, I keep in touch with them all, and it is not unusual to hear from them years later, and it is always good to welcome them back to the Berthon family, and to see them back working at Berthon once more. You may leave Berthon, but you never really leave the Berthon family.


Recruitment is a constant task. I am a Careers Enterprise Advisor at our local senior school in Lymington and help promote the world of work and apprenticeships to their students as well as educating the educators. We work with several local schools and colleges, attending careers fairs and talking at assemblies to promote our Apprenticeship Programme, the opportunities to learn a trade at Berthon earning a good wage and the plentiful opportunities for career advancement. We are very interested in people who are planning a career change later in life and if they are committed, we are happy to invest in them and their training so that they can become full members of our Team.

We offer work experience at Berthon and graduate placements to demonstrate what a role in our industry and at Berthon can offer. Other parts of the business are also training – the Sales Group has a policy of taking graduates to train as brokers (we believe that it takes 5 years to make a broker) and this programme has worked well.

As a Liveryman for the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights, I sat on the Shipwrights Apprenticeship Scheme committee, which played a key role in introducing marine companies to apprenticeships and young people to the marine industry through bursaries. Every year the Livery stages its Shipwright Lectures at the MAST studios in Southampton and I am a member of the lectures committee that arranges these free to attend events for apprentices and students. We are keen that these young people are enthused about the career path that they have taken.


Running the Apprenticeship Programme and mentoring our intake of ten apprentices annually on a four year programme is a fascinating, rewarding and also sometimes frustrating job! Ensuring that apprentices at Berthon and in the wider industry have the best opportunities is what I am passionate about and for the last 10 years I have chaired the employer groups that have built the new apprenticeship standards in Boatbuilding, Marine engineering and Marine electrics as well as sitting on other standards groups. I have been made an honorary member of the City & Guilds of London Institute for my work updating the qualifications for the above apprenticeship standards. We work across a wide sector of the marine industry and so the opportunities for our apprentices to experience a variety of tasks and develop is ever present.

We have a large commercial department working with the MoD and a variety of Government and commercial agencies such as Border Force and ABP where speed, accuracy and budget are key. We build Gemini RIBs. We restore classic wooden yachts. We work in both traditional and high-tech materials, as well as repairing and refitting high performance racing yachts. We work with both fast and long-range motor yachts and have programmes for totally refitting bluewater cruising yachts for world trips. We maintain and carry out winter service and spring fit out for a large number of yachts, both power and sail. No project is ever the same, but what never changes is the need to provide the highest levels of competence for any work that has the Berthon stamp.

Berthon has a programme of investing heavily in infrastructure including a state of the art spray painting facility. Our engineering, shipwrighting, and electrical departments always have the latest equipment. We never know what might come through the door next and we need to be ready. This is of course the very best training for our apprentices. It gives them a depth of experience that certainly cannot be found in production boat building or on a factory floor.


We also recognise the importance of helping our apprentices to grow as people. Offering them participation in the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award is one of the ways that we do this. Volunteering at the Lymington Food Bank was a particularly thought provoking experience for them all – in ways that I don’t think that they imagined, when they were selected for the task.

Our apprentices also participate in the Shipwright Livery’s King’s Silver Medal with adventure events at Kielder Water in Northumberland. We have also had apprentices aboard our client Peter Watson’s FPB 64 explorer yacht, sharing legs of what was dubbed The Long Voyage Home, from Whangarei, North Island in New Zealand to Tahiti, and across the Pacific to the Panama Canal. From there, it was onwards across the Atlantic to the boat’s homeport in Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Peter has also kindly run programmes on his current boat, a larger FPB, at 78 feet, GREY WOLF II, changing the outlook and lives of a number of our Berthon apprentices.

Apprenticeship programmes are in operation across our industry and we are all learning together about what works best. Companies like BAE, Babcock and Pendennis also put the training of young people at the core of the recruitment policy. It fosters job retention and means that the skill set delivered is right for their business. Although very slow burn, it enables us all to upskill successfully, and we are also able to offer consistently high standards of workmanship. When people buy into an apprenticeship they are normally also willing to continue to learn and upskill as technology provides new skill requirements and new ways of doing things. At Berthon, we use Lean Management extensively to allow us to be smart in the management of our projects and to get the best out of the resources that we have.


Because the Berthon Group operates a diverse number of marine businesses, there is scope for our people to change their role at Berthon and to grow in another part of the business. There is always the possibility of moving from the floor into refit management and to learn to drive a desk. There are opportunities to move to subsidiary businesses and to take the training provided by the apprenticeship programme in order to help grow these businesses and to ensure that the skills levels and standards meet the Berthon benchmark.

The key part of my role as Berthon’s Yard Manager is onsite at Berthon, running the yard and being in touch with everything that is happening on the floor, and keeping things running smoothly, for the whole Team. It is my task to ensure that we are on point with ISO9001 (Quality), ISO45001 (Health and Safety) and ISO14001 (Environmental) standards and all the procedures that a modern business needs to respect.

However, my work with the Shipwrights’ Livery, Shipbuilding Skills Taskforce, chair of employer groups, the role of careers enterprise advisor, speaking at schools and the other agencies with which I am involved is all aimed at managing and improving our skills base at Berthon and within the wider industry. It is only if we all work together to increase the visibility of our amazing industry that people of all ages and skills levels will be encouraged to join our mission and to enjoy a very fulfilling career with lots of opportunities in an industry which is one of the most diverse and exciting that I can think of.


After all, I started my career as an apprentice engineer and worked my way up the hard way. This means that I have a good understanding of the challenges as well as opportunities that exist. Being an island, the UK has always had a deep and enduring connection with the sea and everything to do with it. I for one could not imagine a more rewarding way to train, make a living and to enjoy a working life than by doing so within this industry.


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