Trainee engineers learn the ropes thanks to HMS Sutherland

The Navy’s engineers of tomorrow are enjoying a 12-week stint aboard HMS Sutherland – earning vital qualifications and helping the frigate ‘recover’ from a demanding Far East deployment.

Members of Devonport’s Engineering Training Squadron filed aboard the Fighting Clan to provide the ship’s company with a welcome injection of manpower… and to give the rookie engineers their first concerted spell aboard a working warship.

The squadron was formed in March 2015 to bridge the gap between engineers leaving training – Sultan for marine specialists, Collingwood for weapons – and joining their first ships for two to three-year drafts without having experienced life at sea or practical experience.

Now the engineers are ‘loaned’ to ships in their respective bases which need a boost of engineers to help them through maintenance or training periods – like Sutherland which returned from her seven months away in Australia, Japan and the Pacific region in early August and is now gearing up for renewed front-line duties.

Enabling, empowering and equipping our engineers is an important aspect of our ethos and we take great pride in their professional development

Lieutenant Commander Blakeman RN

The two dozen rookies are assigned to the relevant departments on the Type 23 and are expected to demonstrate their skills in operating, diagnosing, maintaining and repairing equipment, help with the day-to-day running of the ship, conduct rounds (checks) on systems, all the while completing professional development task books. Most join a ship as an Engineering Technician 2nd class… and leave just under three months later as 1st class ETs.

That means when their time with the training squadron is up (typically three to six months) they go on their first operational drafts as junior, but competent engineers, relieving any burden on those vessels having to train the new arrival.

They achieve this through a combination of dedicated training support from engineering training squadron staff and, vitally, by the contribution and support of the ship’s company.

Weapon engineer Charles Ainsworth hopes to achieve in three months what would otherwise take six.

“As well as this, it also has allowed me to view life onboard a warship before being deployed to one,” he said.

“Some of the ship’s company have been through the training squadron, enabling them to mentor us in the sections, as well as with our career development.  We have been employed working in the 4.5in gun and radar sections. Storing ship and de-ammunition allowed me to get involved in whole-ship activities.

“Chief Petty Officer Bernie Cooper, our mentor, has been working hard to assist me as much as possible with completing my task books – which means my engineering career in the RN is progressing further and faster than expected.”

Marine engineer Stanley Quinn-Luckett has been itching to join a warship since passing out of HMS Sultan.

“The ship’s company have been very welcoming and have all been very keen to help and answer questions. They have brought us into their messdecks and made everyone feel like part of the Fighting Clan,” he said.

“All the staff have been working hard to push everyone as much as possible to succeed, pushing for everyone to be ahead of the curve. I would say the Engineering Training Squadron is one of the best opportunities for RN engineers.”

Sutherland’s Weapon Engineer Officer Lieutenant Commander ‘George’ Blakeman said the junior engineers brought “an infectious enthusiasm to everything they do and have demonstrated a real appetite to learn from our highly-experienced and professional engineering team.

“Enabling, empowering and equipping our engineers is an important aspect of our ethos and we take great pride in their professional development, which ensures we grow engineers for a highly modern and sophisticated navy.”

“My experience of the Engineering Training Squadron has been entirely positive,” said deputy weapon engineer officer Lt Ruben Smith. “When they embark for training they are well managed and extremely useful to the department.”

Since the first training squadron was formed around 700 weapons and marine engineers have picked up first-hand experience aboard Plymouth and, later, Portsmouth-based warships. Six out of seven made ET1 as a result of the experience.