University isn’t the only way to get an important job – just ask ferry captains.
Students at the Maritime Services Training Institute (MSTI) learn about navigation, skills for ship operations and training in maritime industries.
Students interested in a career at sea can apply for Higher Diploma in Maritime Studies which requires five HKDSE subjects at Level 2 or above, including English Language, Chinese Language and Mathematics. A Certificate in Junior General Purpose Ratings Programme is also open for students older than 16 who have completed Secondary Three.
But being a ferry cadet or captain is not an easy task to do, especially for ferry captain Lau Mang-tak who endures a lot of pressure while managing the ship.
Besides regular navigation and operation of the vessel, Lau is the go-to person for everything that could go wrong on deck: food poisoning, health emergencies and even clogged toilets.
“Taking care of a ship is just like taking care of a house,” he said.
At 32, the MSTI graduate is one of Hong Kong’s youngest ferry captains in the river trade. It took him only seven years to rise from deck cadet to captain – a journey that usually takes eight to 10 years.
On average, a river-sailing captain earns between HK$40,000 and HK$60,000 a month, while a captain on an ocean-going vessel could earn up to HK$70,000 per month, according to MSTI.
Young and promising individuals like Lau are in demand in HK’s maritime industry, which is facing a shortage of staff. More than 23,000 people worked in the industry in 2014, with 500 jobs vacant. Nearly one-fifth of those employed were above the age of 51.
“It’s not a good sign. We need fresh blood to replace the ageing and retired crew,” said Wong Lap Wah, MSTI’s main instructor. He added that some of the crew members were above the retirement age of 65. He warned, if there were no qualified locals, the industry would need to hire professionals from other countries.