Tooley’s Boatyard plans to create apprenticeship scheme

Tooley's Boatyard, Banbury. Matt Armitage, with 'Avalon', the 1,500th boat in for service during his 15 years in charge. NNL-171107-134534009
Tooley's Boatyard, Banbury. Matt Armitage, with 'Avalon', the 1,500th boat in for service during his 15 years in charge. NNL-171107-134534009

Banbury’s iconic piece of working history is hoping to pave the way in boat repair and dock management training by formulating a new recognised apprenticeship scheme.

The ambitious plan would be yet another string to the bow of the dry dock and would be a UK first if approved.

Proprietor of Tooley’s, Matthew Armitage, knows first-hand the frustration that studying non-boat specific courses with just a smattering of transferable skills can create.

Matt said: “For myself I’m a basic garage mechanic. As well as other things I have NVQs in vehicle mechanics, things like spark ignition and compression in both petrol and diesel.

“Petrol mechanics was completely irrelevant as boats are all diesel. The rest of the modules on wheels, suspension and brakes were completely irrelevant.”

During his 15-year tenure at the dry dock Matt has taken would-be coach painters under his wing and had to resort to some creative thinking in order to provide them with a pen and ink qualification.

Matt said: “We sent them on painting and decorating courses which is ridiculous really.”

In the new year Tooley’s is hoping to employ an apprentice to learn all aspects of working in a boatyard including management, painting, basic boat repair and mechanics but wants the student to leave with an industry standard modern apprenticeship qualification.

Matt said: “If there isn’t a qualification that is relevant to us then we’re looking to make one.”

With over 200 years of boat repair at the site and with the wealth of knowledge stored within the minds of the current employees, Tooley’s provides the natural foundation on which a Modern Apprenticeship can be built.

Matt has already been in contact with a leading manufacturer of boat engines and Banbury and Bicester College in order to supplement his vision and create a qualification.

Matt said: “What it would be is being involved in setting the standard. So it would have to involve a college and it would involve other people in the industry.

“We would come up with the standard and then it has to be put forward to the education authorities to be agreed. It would then become a proper qualification.”

If approved the qualification would revolutionise the narrow boat industry that still operates in the tried and tested methodology of learning on the job and gaining experience.

Matt said: “If you wanted to work in a boatyard there’s no qualification you can go off and do. If you want to work with narrow boats you have to get a job and hope they teach you a bit. That’s how it works.”