CalMac has announced further changes in response to the Covid-19 emergency, following Government announcements on continued lockdown.

The ferry operator’s reduced service lifeline timetable has been extended to 7 May and there will be no recruitment of modern apprentices in 2020.

CalMac was planning to take 20 modern apprentices into deck, engine and hospitality roles and had already received around 450 applications for this year’s intake. That’s in addition to the 21 apprentices currently going through training, but stood down on full pay during the crisis.

The new intake has now been postponed until next year, when it will also be expanded to include more shore side roles. All applicants who had already applied will automatically be considered again next year and will have the opportunity to update their application with relevant experience gained in the meantime.

CalMac’s director of human resources, Christine Roberts, said: “We have considered a full range of options to continue with recruitment but, with regret, none of them are practical. Our current intake of modern apprentices is currently stood down from physical duties on full pay and continuing to study online at home, which will add on an extra six months to their training.

“If we simply postponed recruitment until later in the year we would be out of sync with our training partner City of Glasgow College's curriculum. We also do not have the capacity to have two sets of MAs working with us at the same time.”

Modern apprentices combine classroom study with time at sea and qualify with appropriate SQA qualifications. CalMac has employed more than 100 MAs since introducing the programme five years ago.

It takes a year for hospitality apprentices to be fully trained for their role as a senior catering rating and 18 months for deck and engine apprentices to be fully trained as navigational watch rating or engine room watch rating, plus another 18 months to become a fully qualified able seafarer.

Last year’s completed apprenticeships saw five seafarers from Lewis, Harris and Scalpay joining the CalMac workforce as engineers, deckhands and in the retail area.

Christine said: “Our MA programme is a key part of our talent pipeline, making sure we are training the next generation of seafarers. We continue to be 100% committed to delivering this, but unfortunately under the current crisis circumstances we will not be able to progress the programme this year, our priority has to be ensuring our current MAs are fully supported.

“We do not underestimate the value the communities we support place on these opportunities and this is not a decision we have taken lightly.”