“Many schools do a good job of educating the youth, but few schools prepare young learners for a career. A school such as the Simons Town High Maritime Studies programme is exactly what South Africa needs considering the country’s high level of unemployment, “ said Sean Day, Chairman of the Teekay Corporation, in his speech at the opening of the Lawhill Maritime Centre in 2010.
Established in 1996, the Lawhill Maritime Centre (LMC), at Simons Town High School, attracts students to the shipping industry, and stimulates maritime awareness among young people. The programme then also provides the shipping industry with motivated new entrants equipped with a range of maritime-related skills and knowledge.
Susan Karlshoej (daughter of Sean Day and Chairlady of the Teekay Foundation) explained the importance of LMC at the centre’s opening, stating that: “This facility would one day provide a solid job, decent pay and a bright future for talented young people from less advantaged backgrounds. The Lawhill Maritime Centre gives children from these backgrounds safe, comfortable places to study towards a career in an industry that needs them. There is no better way to help young people than to given them an education.”
LMC is the only school in South Africa offering two streams of maritime study – Maritime Economics and Nautical Science, alongside their formal school education. Maritime Economics includes maritime geography, ship operations, port studies, maritime trade patterns, the bunker trade, ships’ agency procedures, ship-broking, cargo clearing, and maritime ecology. Nautical Science prepares students for sea-going careers and covers seamanship, coastal and astro-navigation, ship construction, cargo stowage, ship stability, and maritime meteorology.
Each year the Centre is allocated about 20 entry places for students in Grade 10, who then continue into Grade 11 and 12. In total there are 129 students, of whom 33% are female. The Centre provides boarding accommodation to 54 students (32 girls and 22 boys), drawing 96% of its students from disadvantaged communities in Ngcobo, Potchefstroom, Durban, Umtata, Bloemfontein, Cape Town, East London, and Johannesburg. Once matriculated, students complete a further year of studying where they specialise either in marine engineering or in navigation. Many students get accepted at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology for their further training. However, many students are placed straight from matriculation into their sea-going career as cadets, or ratings on merchant vessels such as containerships, tankers, bulk carriers or tugs. Other students follow a career ashore in various fields like liner and port operations, ship’s agents, shipbrokers, the clearing and forwarding sector, and bunkering.
The Lawhill Maritime Centre is entirely funded by the shipping industry and Safmarine, which is a pioneer of the Maritime Studies programme and one of its most loyal supporters.
“Supporting education by giving our youth the skills and opportunities they need for a fair chance to succeed in life is not only a priority in a country such as South Africa (where more than 50% of the population is under 25), but particularly important considering South Africa’s current high rate of unemployment which is the main reason an estimated 40% to 50% of South Africans live in poverty,” says Safmarine Southern Africa Cluster Manager, Jonathan Horn.
To date 260 students have graduated from LMC, and they have had an 80% employment placement rate, which is impressive in the current economic climate, particularly when contrasted to the general unemployment rate of school-leavers.
One Grade 11 student, Zusiphe Mzotho, had the following to say about her experience so far, “I grew up in a township near Durban and never knew anything about this industry; I didn’t even know a maritime industry existed in South Africa. Lawhill Maritime Centre has helped to open the doors to a future I could never have dreamt of and the course at Lawhill has taught me discipline, punctuality and responsibility – and that accomplishment is a hard journey and not a destination.”