25 years with Norwegian trained Filipino seafarers

For a quarter of a century Norwegian Training Center Manila (NTC) have been training the majority of the roughly 25.000 Filipino seafarers that work on Norwegian ships around the planet. With a NOK 30 million investment NTC is preparing to take a step further and train sailors for professions that are now inaccessible through Filipino schools.

Bosuns_(6)In hustle and bustle of traffic paralyzed Manila is a Norwegian Maritime School. But apart from the name and a Norwegian flag flapping lazily in the wind, at first glance, there do not seem to be anything particularly Norwegian about the school. Just two Norwegians work full time at NTC, the School’s Managing Director Captain Erik Blom and the cadet course leader Captain Jordan Nostvik. None the less the approximately 8000 seafarers that pass through this school yearly are or will be employed on Norwegian ships. The training center was started 25 years ago by Norwegian Shipowners’ Association (NSA). Serving as a seafarer on a Norwegian ships demands a change to a bit more Norwegian mindset.

We try to teach them to share their opinion. It can be a disadvantage that Filipinos generally are avoiding conflicts. They don’t always say what they mean, just ‘yes sir’ or ‘no sir instead’ of sharing their opinion. It’s our wish to change that culture,” Captain Blom says and adds that it is essential that the communication is direct and that no-one tries to hide anything, when handling a ship.

Every year some 10.000 hopeful Filipinos apply for NTC’s 4 year education to become a maritime officer, the cadet program, only 3,5 percent of the applicants will make the cut. 7-8000 of the applicants will be tested, around 2000 will pass the test and be interviewed by individual shipping companies. In the end only 350 will be accepted to the school, all of them will know which company they will become trainee and eventually be employed by. One of the reasons for the popularity is that students do not only receive a scholarship from NSA, but are also guaranteed a job at the company that takes them in as trainees.

Considering the amount seafarers that are passing through the training center every year, the school seems rather small, consisting of three beige buildings that are no higher than a three stories apartment block and equipped with four meter high pumps, welding stations, a ship simulator the size of a small house and of course more traditional classrooms. 

At the moment the school offer 80 courses and have programs in everything from cooking to crane operating. The courses in the training center vary in length, from 1 day to 6 months, while the education of the cadets is a 4 year bachelor with one year as a trainee at the company that has chosen to give the student an opportunity through the scholarship program. 

Two nations of seafarers
Filipinos are sought after as crewmembers on ships around the world. NTC have tried and failed training sailors in Vietnam and China and Captain Blom believes Filipino’s are generally good seafarers and have three main explanations as to why.

First of all they come from an archipelago of 7000 islands, so they are born with saltwater in their veins. Secondly their behavior generally matches Scandinavians well, and then their English skills are very good,” Captain Blom says.

But local politics have also played a role as to why other projects have failed. NTC had an experience were the students did good at a school in China, but once they had graduated the Chinese government ordered the cadets, whose education was paid for by Norwegian Companies, to serve on Chinese ships.

There are around 100 maritime schools in the Philippines. According to Captain Blom every year some 80.000 students start on a maritime education in the Philippines, of this large number only 5,400 will get a diploma and in the end around 4000 will get a job. This is one of the reasons why Captain Blom has a bit of pride in his voice announcing that around 80 percent of NTC’s cadets come out with both job and diploma.

Upping the game
When NTC opened in 1990 and in the following years started the cadet program, they were setting the benchmark for maritime education in the Philippines. Now in 2015 several schools offer similar programs of the same if not higher quality. To once again become a leading figure among maritime educations in the Philippines NTC are making a NOK 30 million upgrade in 2015. The investment will enable NTC to add educations that are not available anywhere else in the Philippines. This means higher educated Filipinos filling out professions that have traditionally been operated by Norwegians only.

We haven’t had problems with unions in Norway. It is a fight that have been fought long time ago, and people have realized that Filipinos or other foreigners are here to stay. They place the blame political system in Norway rather than the individual sailor,” Captain Blom says.

The new courses will mostly focus on advanced offshore related jobs. For instance, at the moment there are no Filipino captains on advanced anchor handling vessels used offshore, but with the upgrade that will be the new reality.

We think this is the way the world is developing, especially with the low oil prices. Shipping firms and oil producers will be even more focused on costs,” Captain Blom says and adds that Norway has a very developed and refined maritime educational system, and NTC’s task is just a question of transferring the competences to the educational facility in the Philippines.

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