In our special column this month, we are pleased to host an interview with Mrs Kathryn Neilson who is responsible for the overall operation of the UK Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB).
Prior to joining the MNTB in 2017, Kathryn worked for Royal Caribbean International overseeing the Company’s cadet training programme. As she explains, there she found her mentor who was her senior leader. In a man’s world it’s a challenge as a woman to be taken seriously, but with the right support and a great deal of determination everything can happen, she notes.
SAFETY4SEA: How did it come about that you joined shipping industry and your field of expertise specifically?
Kathryn Neilson: I was working at the time for a large cruise line in the UK overseeing their Facilities operation (hard and soft services) when the opportunity arose to take on a completely different role within the marine team. I was ready for a career change, but at that point was considering going back into teaching. In my new role as Safety and Compliance Officer responsible for 17 UK vessels, I was able to transfer my skills managing land-based facilities to a ship-based role. Within that role I was also responsible for the management of the UK and International Cadet Training Programme. It was that aspect of my role that stimulated my passion for the development and delivery of seafarer training and education.
S4S: What about your current job/ role most excites you and why?
K.N.: In my current role as Director of the MNTB, I am fortunate enough to be able work with an incredible group of experienced, knowledgeable professionals across different maritime sectors who can influence the way we educate the seafarer of the future and together we are continually looking for ways to improve the cadet training experience. My mission is to ensure that our UK seafarers receive the best training possible and to equip them with the necessary skills to start them on a successful career path within the maritime industry, whether that be on ship or ashore.
S4S: When you think of the word successful who’s the first person who comes to mind and why?
K.N.: Michelle Obama. She is a great example of a leader, strong, compassionate and driven. She has and continues to raise awareness of important issues i.e. diversity and gender equality, childhood obesity through her “let’s move” programme and The Hunger Free Kids Act, just some examples of the incredible work she does for those who need help and support. I greatly admire her drive and determination to fight for what she believes in and the fact that she has used her influence to make a difference to the lives of those far less fortunate than herself.
S4S: Who is/was the most influential person/mentor to you & why ?
K.N.: By far the best mentor I had was a senior leader I reported to at Royal Caribbean.The individual I refer to gave me so many wonderful opportunities on the back of his belief in my ability. I retrained, studied in my own time, shadowed people who had a huge amount of experience and basically did everything I could to be the best I could. In a man’s world it’s a challenge as a woman to be taken seriously, but with the right support and a great deal of determination I truly believe you can do ANYTHING you put your mind to.
S4S: What is the best and what was the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given and why?
K.N.: Best piece of advice – if you hit a brick wall don’t stop and go back…..climb over it! Worst piece of advice- listen to your head not your heart!
S4S: What is the most worthwhile career investment (in energy, time, money) you’ve ever made?
K.N.: Spending time voluntarily as an observer watching maritime professionals doing their jobs over the last 10 years has given me insight into the challenges each and every one of them faces on a day to day basis. I’ve learnt and continue to learn so much from these experiences.
S4S: If you could give a piece of advice to your 18-year-old-self one thing, what would it be and why? \What piece of advice should you ignore?
K.N.: Never allow people to make you question your ability. If you do, you will hit that brick wall and not be able to get over it! I truly believe your value does not decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.
S4S: In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your business life?
K.N.: My son’s headmistress made a speech to the new year group at his school some years ago and what she said has stayed with me ever since. Don’t go where the path may lead you, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail……what great advice to give a young person starting out on their career journey!
S4S: What would you like to change in the current maritime landscape and your area of expertise specifically and why?
K.N.: I want to see more woman chose a career in maritime. There are still very few women in our industry and that needs to change. Diversity is the key to the growth of our industry and EVERYONE should be given the opportunity to be a part of that growth. I want to ensure our UK cadets and ratings receive the best training from the best maritime training establishments to become the best seafarers so that every single newly qualified officer and rating has a job at the end of their training.
S4S: What is your personal motto?
K.N: No such word as can’t, only won’t!
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.