Upon my arrival at the Norwegian Training Center-Manila I am met by 9 eager men ready to tell me about their experiences of getting onto the highly renowned Cadet Program. Having expected to meet only with one or two I am thrilled to be interviewing them all at once, getting a firsthand exposure to the sense of camaraderieship that forms such a fundamental part of life as a seafarer.
The NSA Philippines Cadet Program was established by the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association in 1993 with the aim of improving the maritime education in the Philippines and produce quality seafarers who could meet international standards. Of the 76,000 students currently graduating from the 96 different maritime schools in the Philippines only a fraction meet the qualifications required by international shipping firms. The NSA Cadet Program wanted to change this and prove that with the right resources Filipinos have the ability to excel as seafarers.
Whereas the Program started with a pilot class of 150 cadets it can now proudly count 2952 graduates working at NIS or Norwegian controlled vessels.
For most of the young officers in question, getting onto the Cadet Program had thus been a long time vision, a goal they had only allowed themselves to dream of before being accepted. Being one of a kind, the Cadet Program namely not only provides you with a first class education, it also guarantees you a job at a Norwegian owned ship at the end of your study period.
Getting onto the program. First the boys (and girls, 11 girls where in fact accepted at the 2012 screening), needs to go through several tough exams, testing them in everything from English and maths to their knowledge of IT. Having accomplished this, the contestants need to go through a challenging physical test before conducting - and this is what the graduates had thought where the most nerve wrecking of them all - a personal interview with a member of the Training Center. At this interview, project manager George Meljoe Frange told me, the Center is looking for positive attitudes and other personal traits that will make the recruits suitable for a potential future in shipping. Sometimes members of the shipping companies even attend the interviews, looking for certain personalities that will go well with their existing crews. When I asked the Cadet graduates how they had prepared for this interview, they all told me that they had tried to relax and work on their confidence. In the end the most important thing was to just be themselves, show ambition and a good attitude.
Once accepted onto the program however the real work begins. The importance of team work and companionship as well as being able to be at sea for long periods at a time are abilities the cadets are being tested and trained at straight away. During the first 5 months of the program the cadets are not allowed to speak or even text with their friends and families back home. The students all sleep in dormitories and are expected to maintain an academic average of 80-85% to be able to stay on the program. Does it ever happen that a student is unable to reach this target I wonder? No! reply the graduates almost simultaneously. Once we have been accepted to the program we are all in this together, we look out for each other, and we help each other get through the different subjects. This is also what we are being taught to do.
The same attitudes are to be found on board the ship. As a crew you spend so much time together that a strong sense of companionship is inevitable, and also necessary to ensure the most efficient running of the ship. Your friends on board, emphasize most of the graduates, are what will get you through those days when you are feeling homesick. Or just seasick, a comment followed by lots of laughter. Life on board the ship can be quite tiring, work is sometimes hard and you always have to be on the alert in case something unexpected happens. The graduates nevertheless tell me that they have chosen life as a seafarer because they have true passion for the profession. Being on board the ship provides them with a feeling of freedom and adventure. There are off course relaxing times too. Often the crew plays karaoke and most Saturdays they have a BBQ. If it is up to them they will stay working on ships for the next 20 years with the aim of reaching the highest possible rank on board.
The additional social and economic status that follows the life as a seafarer is not off course unwelcomed, and most of the officers admitted that it played an essential part in deciding to choose this route. When asked if the graduates think it will be difficult to find a wife being out on sea for such long periods at a time, these guys are not at all worried. In fact as a seafarer they will have many options, and might even have to break a few hearts on the way.
Leaving the graduates, I am left with the impression that this was a group of extremely motivated young men, positive and highly enthusiastic about their future. Completing 4 years with the NSA Philippines Cadet Program has really taught them to embrace the value of good attitudes and team work. Cultural awareness and the importance of being flexible has furthermore been an essential part of their degree. Whilst working on ships seafarers will encounter several different nationalities and cultures and have to learn how to cooperate with all of them. The sometimes very frank management style of Norwegian officers was especially something that these Filipino graduates had to get used to. At the same time the guys praised the Norwegians for being very approachable, making everyone feel equal on the boat.
As a final question, and as a tip for future applicants, I asked if any of them could remember one of the questions that had been asked them during the personal interview that formed part of the screening selection. One of the cadets said he had been asked what in his opinion the definition of success was. When he could not remember what he had answered I took the opportunity to say that in fact they were now the very definition of success. Each year over 10,000 students apply for the Cadet Program and only 300-500 are chosen. Being part of the 16th batch that joined the program in 2008, these officers are 9 out of the privileged 465 cadets to secure a future within shipping. Having all done their placement year with the OSM group, the graduates are now just waiting to finish their final government exam before they embark on their new journey as officers for an OSM ship.
Great thanks to Mark Laurence Sarigumba, Noel Jay C. Rebucias, Daniel D. Zonio, Joemarie John L. Escosura, Wyethglen L. Sabile, Kenneth A Bassig, Elvince Nino B. Codilla, Junshen Louie U. Resang and Marcelino B. Toledo Jr. for the interview.