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Sean Lafferty

Photo by John Paul PhotographyA Merchant Navy Retail Officer who says his union-sponsored Open University certificate was part of the jigsaw that saw him gain promotion, has now embarked on an OU degree with union and company support.

Sean Lafferty, (pictured right, photo by John Paul Photography) who lives in Oban, left school with a few Highers and went straight into employment with ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac), starting off by washing pots on board.

Now approaching 20 years' service, Sean has risen to the post of On-board Services Manager - the highest sea-going position in his area of expertise - and is currently working on the Isle of Mull ferry.

Union and company support

Sean is a Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union member. In 2015 he was awarded a Certificate of Higher Education Open from The Open University in Scotland, having studied Business and Management modules for two years while working full-time – including taking his books to sea with him. He received full sponsorship from Scottish Union Learning. 

He is currently studying for a Degree in Business Management with The OU, building on the courses he did for his OU Certificate. The RMT made him aware of a bursary available to sea-going staff and Sean was successful in receiving a contribution towards his degree. When he spoke to the Human Resources Department at CalMac, they decided to cover 50 percent of his course fees. 

They are investing in me to develop as well, which is really, really good, very important. I am over the moon about the support I have been getting both from my union and my company.

Positive experience

Sean is quick to recommend adult education and The OU to colleagues. "I have waxed lyrical about The OU for the last four years and I will continue to do so. Hopefully through the studies I have done with the support from my union and my company there are opportunities for my colleagues here as well.

"Hopefully they realise they will get support and even contributions towards their study, through the union and the company." 

During Sean's OU Certificate studies, his firm was undergoing a very lengthy tender process to continue operating the Clyde and Hebrides Ferries Network and he knew that his employment status could be in jeopardy. Also, he says: "I was looking to get promoted to On-board Services Manager and I believe in part thanks to the work I had completed throughout my Open University journey that actually helped me attain the promotion.  

"I lead a team that delivers a fantastic customer service. We bring our customers onto a clean, comfortable environment, we operate the shops, the bars, the restaurants and we look after not only the customers but the crew as well.” Sean's role also encompasses many safety and security related duties. 

CalMac won a new eight-year £900m contract from the Scottish Government in Spring 2016 to continue operating the Network, which Sean declared "fantastic news". 

Degree studies

Sean had been keen to move on to the degree straight away but a house move and ensuing renovation project did not prove practical for combining with his studies. Thanks to The OU's flexibility, Sean was able to complete his first two Tutor Marked Assignments and take a year out, returning to his degree in 2016. 

Sean works at sea for two weeks, then is ashore for a fortnight. "Education, I have realised, is all about time management. It is about getting the work balance, the life balance, and the study balance."