Next month, on an historic former boat building yard, in a £75 million development on the banks of the River Dart, the new South Devon College Marine Academy opens its doors.
In the planning for 10 years, this state- of- the- art facility at Noss on Dart aims to close the skills gap within the maritime industry and meet the demands of a changing marine and maritime sector.
A local man who studied Marine Engineering at South Devon College and says it was his time there that gave him the kick start to his career will be speaking at the opening.
Jake Cronk, now managing director of Salcombe Marine Services, went on to complete an apprenticeship and progressed on to university to study MEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering. In his final year he was awarded the acclaimed Whitworth Scholarship Award from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.
“The course had great facilities, with very supportive tutors,” explained Jake. “They were always keen to offer more and there is nothing like it on offer in the South West.”
After gaining a first class degree Jake returned to the Mercedes AMG Formula 1 and Formula E teams, where he had spent time on a work placement during his degree.
“I loved the fast paced nature of being a power train design engineer for Formula 1 but it was hard work. Though I did get to meet the Formula 1 drivers like Lewis Hamilton.”
However, missing the sea and wanting to be self- employed, Jake headed back to Salcombe, where he joined Salcombe Marine Services. The business, formally known as SMS (Salcombe Ltd) was acquired by the Twisted Group, and is headed up by Jake and Charles Fawcett.
“I have always loved boats, growing up by the sea, and I have always been interested in all things fast. And my love of engineering started as a child, I used to love pulling motorbikes apart and seeing how they worked.”
Jake has moved on from fixing motorbikes now to running a company that is the main agent for three premium marine engine manufacturers, as well as offering boat storage, boat sales and superior waterfront access and facilities in the heart of Salcombe. He is well placed as the maritime sector is forecast to grow by 15 per cent between 2019 and 2023.
The new South Devon College Marine Academy wants to help close the skills gap and meet the demands of the changing marine sector by offering its students a vibrant and flexible education with strong industry relationships.
The academy will offer students of all ages top rate facilities including a marine engineering workshop, research and design facility, innovation hub, navigation suite and a bridge simulator, as well as light open plan classrooms and break out rooms.
The curriculum has been designed around the needs of the maritime sector and will deliver training in new and emerging technologies including autonomous vessels and electric/hybrid propulsion. There is a myriad of full-time courses on offer, from Level 2 and 3 courses in Marine Engineering, Maritime Skills to Apprenticeships in Boat building, Warehousing and Composites to degree level qualifications in Marine Technologies, Coastal Engineering and more.
14 years since studying Marine Engineering at South Devon College, Jake has two apprentices from the college at SMS. Callum Berridge is doing a boat building apprenticeship and George Carter is in his final year of his marine engineering apprenticeship and will join SMS full time.
Overseeing five technicians as well as building the business Jake is also keen to create Twisted Marine, to work alongside the established Twisted Automotive; famous for recommissioning, rebuilding and updating the iconic Land Rover Defender.
“Fibreglass boats are difficult to recycle,” said Jake. “Rather than putting it into landfill we can give these well-built boats another lease of life.”
This is exactly what is happening at Noss on Dart with Premier Marina’s regeneration of the former Philip & Son shipbuilding yard. South Devon College Marine Academy is part of the exciting new future of this 37 acre site, helping to close the skills gap, meet the demands of the changing marine sector and provide career opportunities.