They’ll Make a Sailor out of Any Landlubber

When Odd Magne Skei grew up on a farm near Stavanger in the Southwest of Norway, his older brother would often return from jobs as an engineer on various ships and share stories about the ‘life at sea’. These stories intrigued the young Odd Magne, who soon took an education as a radio officer and got his first job on a tanker in the summer of 1971 at age 20.
         Since then, Odd Magne Skei has worked for many of those Norwegian companies that are now among the benefiting customers of the Norwegian Training Center in Manila (NTC-M), where he has found himself in the Director’s chair since mid-August last year.
         With more than 100 ship-owning companies on the customer list, the NTC-M trained over 6400 seafarers in 2004, and 2005 looks to see 7000 sea-bound faces pass through the doors of the Norwegian-run center in the outskirts of Manila. 
         When the NTC-M was established in February 1990 by the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association (NSA), it was with the purpose of training the many Filipino seafarers working on the ships of NSA’s members. That is still the main purpose, although the NTC-M today is also used by many other European ship-owning companies (about 40% of the customers are non-Norwegian companies).
         “Most of the people in our classes are Filipino, because there is a need for Filipinos to fill higher positions on the ships sailing worldwide,” says Director Odd Magne Skei.
         “The European seafarers are too costly compared to the Filipinos, and there has also been a lack of recruitment in the EU, so most European ship-owning companies with business in this region naturally choose to educate locals to work on their ships,” he explains.
         The NTC-M plays a central role in this process, since they are the only training center in Southeast Asia of this size, thus able to attract highly professional and skilled instructors from Europe. They train anyone from mechanics to captains, deck-sweepers to kitchen chefs, and the courses include both theory and practical training. The shortest courses last 3-5 days, the longest up to 2 weeks.
         “We keep developing our courses all the time, based on the feedback from our customers. We have to. We are here to support the companies and not the other way around. That means we try to listen as much as possible to the needs of those companies who send workers to be trained here,” says Odd Magne Skei when asked to describe the foremost purpose of the NTC-M, which is officially owned by the so-called Norwegian Maritime Foundation of the Philippines Inc., which was started by the NSA in 1990.
A brand new wing
More customers with more training needs, of course, require high-standard training facilities to match the high-quality instructors coming in from other continents. The costs are covered by the companies who send their seafarers to the NTC-M – through the course fees. Various large simulators – some of which the NTC-M is the only center in the world to have – give the seafarers a chance to learn how to master their particular duties at sea – even the captain can train his ability to guide a large ship under various weather and weight circumstances.
         With the many financial benefits of placing Filipinos in higher positions, and with companies’ obvious interest in increasing the skills of its seafarers, the demand to expand grows more and more evident for the NTC-M. Thus, it seems like perfect timing for the center that they will be able to open a new 3-story wing in late August – adding 600 square meters to the current facilities of 5300 square meters.
         “It will give us room for more classrooms, create a better work environment for the instructors, plus give more space for our administration. A part of the wing will also hold some brand new training simulators, which will enable us to create new courses,” says Odd Magne Skei.

Unique Cadet Scheme
The extra space will also come in handy in perhaps the most unique area of NTC-M’s current activities: the so-called Cadet Scheme. It is a project started by NSA and within this year alone it gives free, full 2-year scholarships to 230 cadets from 5 different universities in the Philippines. They undergo additional training at the NTC-M and spend one year onboard a real ship for practical training, and then they go back to their schools for the finishing year and exams.
         “We are the only place in the world to do this sort of thing. It is really a unique project that gives many young Filipinos a chance to work in this profession. So far, about 90% of them have returned to work for a Norwegian company after graduating,” says Odd Magne Skei, who also has experience training cadets in Shanghai, Riga, and Latvia.

“Feels good to be back”
After one year in the job as director for the NTC-M, Odd Magne Skei is still enjoying the organization’s progress as well as his life in the Philippines. This is not the first time that the 54 year-old director lives and works in Southeast Asia. From 1991 to 1995 he worked in Singapore and Manila, but this time he and his wife have moved to Manila without their two now grown-up children.
         “After seven years back in Oslo, it feels good to be back out here in Asia. I personally don’t like snow and cold weather, so in that sense this is a great place to be. We normally go back once each summer and each Christmas to our cottage in the south of Norway, where we have a boat,” he says.
         “This time it’s easier, too, because we already know the different culture out here. People are always smiling here in the Philippines, but as someone who is working with many Filipinos you also have to know that it is very important for them not to lose face. I find that you will generate respect from them immediately if you show them respect too, but many Europeans make the mistake of not doing this when they first come here,” says Odd Magne Skei, who is currently on a 3 year contract, which has a possible extension of yet another 3 years.
         “I would like it to be 6 years,” he says with a careful smile. 
         “Both me and my wife really like it here. After that, I will be 59 and hopefully able to work another couple of years in this industry before retiring. I have always liked challenges,” he says.
         The way things are going right now, there will be plenty of challenges in the coming years as the NTC-M continues to match its own development with the rising demand for training.

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