The people who built the Titanic: The story of Harland & Wolff and Belfast’s shipbuilding heritage

Famed as a country of jagged rocks and proud people, Northern Ireland and its capital city Belfast has become synonymous with shipbuilding. One name always associated with the city’s proud maritime heritage is Harland & Wolff named after Yorkshireman Edward Harland and the German Gustav Wolff.

Referred to as the ‘engine room’ of Northern Ireland’s economy, the shipyard is perhaps most famous for the three Olympic-class ships built in the early 20th century, the Olympic, Britannic and most Iconic of all the RMS Titanic.

The construction of the ship is an immense source of pride for the city which proudly displays a number of murals dedicated to the shipyard and its workers. Weighing 46,000 tonnes, the Titanic was the largest manmade moveable object the world had seen at the time and was worked on by nearly 15,000 Belfast men.

The city and country came together in grief after the vessel’s fatal voyage in 1912 however, the shipyard would prove vital in both world wars that followed. The demand for shipbuilding during the great war resulted in a new yard being built on the East side of the dock for mass ship production

A Harland and Wolff mural in Belfast (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In the Second World War, the Harland and Wolff shipyard made such a contribution to Britain’s war effort that it holds the world record for ship production during the conflict. The energy and success of the shipyard, however, made Belfast a key target for German air attacks, almost 100

0 people were killed during the Belfast Blitz whilst the shipyard was severely damaged.

In the post-war era, the iconic cruise liner Canberra was built at the Shipyard for Anglo-Australian crossings. The vessel was in use for almost 40 years between 1961-1997 and became the ultimate testament to the work ethic of the men and women at Harland and Wolff’s Belfast shipyard.

Today, following the gradual decline of British Shipbuilding, Harland and Wolff have seen a rebirth - with a focus on offshore renewable

energy as well as maritime engineering for smaller vessels. The takeover by Infastrata has brought optimism back to the city and in 2019 with the £7 million acquisition of the Appledore site in South West England, the Harland and Wolff brand is growing into a leading figure of a revitalised British shipbuilding industry.

ICONIC MARITIME: Celebrating Leonard Roy Harmon as part of #BlackHistoryMonth

Celebrating maritime, marine engineering and shipbuilding across the globe, we take a look at the iconic people and locations that are instrumental to the industry - This week and as part of Black History Month, we take a look at the incredible contribution of Leonard Roy Harmon, this first black man to have a warship named after him. 

Leonard Roy Harmon was a Texan born in 1917 into a poor southern African-American family. Harmon faced the same barriers that other black men in the United States faced during this period, he was educated at a segregated school and despite joining the U.S Navy in 1939, he was limited to which roles he could carry out.

One of the positions that black men could take in the navy at that time was in the mess facilities onboard ships. Harmon himself became a Mess Attendant and was promoted to Mess Attendant First Class by the time the United States had entered the second world war. His role consisted of serving food to the officers and the crew aboard the ship. Despite only being tasked with menial jobs, Harmon was trained in damage control like every member of the ship's crew and had his own specific station to report to during general quarters (action stations).

Serving aboard the U.S.S San Francisco, Harmon was involved in the famous naval battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. Following a Japanese attack that killed nearly all of the officers on the ship's bridge - Harmon rushed in to care for and evacuate the wounded, standing between them and enemy gunfire and ultimately giving his life to protect his shipmates.

For this act of bravery, Harmon was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously. In the citation that went with the awarding of the Navy Cross, the President's Office paid tribute to Harmon:

"Mess Attendant First Class Harmon rendered invaluable assistance in caring for the wounded and assisting them to a dressing station. In addition to displaying unusual loyalty in behalf of the injured Executive Officer, he deliberately exposed himself to hostile gunfire in order to protect a shipmate and, as a result of this courageous deed, was killed in action. His heroic spirit of self-sacrifice maintained above and beyond the call of duty, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."

Leonard Harmon's name lives on to this day as the first black man to have a U.S warship named after him. The U.S.S Harmon was active until the end of the war and remained a fitting reminder of the bravery of the man it was named after. To this day Leonard Harmon is recognised as a true trailblazer for BAME member of the U.S armed forces.

ICONIC MARITIME: Shipbuilding on the Clyde, then and now

Celebrating maritime, marine engineering and shipbuilding across the globe, we take a look at the iconic people and locations that are instrumental to the industry – this week we focus on the famous shipbuilding heritage on the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow, Scotland.

Despite the majority of the Clyde’s shipbuilding history being associated with the Govan area of Glasgow, following the industrial revolution in the UK much of the country’s shipbuilding was based at Denny’s Shipyard in Dumbarton, 15 miles West of Scotland’s largest city. The town’s shipyard is known for being the building site of the first steamship to cross the English Channel as well as the famous Cutty Sark, the worlds last surviving ‘tea clipper’, currently on display in London.

Through the 19th and 20th centuries the Fairfield shipyard in Govan was the heart of maritime manufacturing on the Clyde. Robert Napier & Sons, founded by the man known as the father of shipbuilding on the Clyde, was known as universally as the finest firm of shipbuilders in Britain with many firms founded by former employees of the company. The successes put Glasgow and the Clyde on the map as a leading supplier of ships to the Royal Navy, a tradition that still carries on to this day in Govan and Scotstoun.

The Finnieston Crane on the banks of the Clyde (Picture:  Les Hull, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons)

One of the landmarks that makes up the skyline of Glasgow is the famous Finnieston Crane on the Northern bank of the Clyde in the Yorkhill area of the city. Built in 1931 for loading large containers and fitting engines onto steamships, it remains an impressive symbol of the area’s maritime heritage and as a testament to its manufacturing quality, it remains in working order to this very day.

After the shipyard at Clydebank to the west of Glasgow was heavily bombed in the Second World War, the shipbuilding industry in the area went into decline with global competition catching up, however investment in the late 20th Century has seen a resurgence with new government contracts. The Govan Shipyard was pivotal in building of the Type 45 destroyer project between 2003 and 2013 which saw six new ‘daring class’ destroyers replace the retired Type 42 vessels.

Currently, the Type 26 Frigate project to replace the Royal Navy’s type 23 fleet is being built at BAE Systems Govan site. The first vessel already named the HMS Glasgow will then be launched and finished at the company’s Scotstoun shipyard in 2021.

With the Type 26 programme employing more than 1,200 people, the Clyde still plays a vital role in British shipbuilding. Admiral Sir Philip Jones the former First Sea Lord paid tribute to the area when the first of the City-class T26’s were named;

“The Clyde was the birthplace of some of the greatest fighting ships the world has ever known and so cutting steel there for the future HMS Glasgow is symbolic of a Royal Navy on the rise once again.

“The City-class names have been chosen for the Type 26 to provide an enduring link between the Royal Navy and our great centres of commerce and industry. The name Glasgow brings with it a string of battle honours, stretching from the Arctic Circle to the South Atlantic.”

At the launch of the HMS Duncan in 2010, 40,000 people gathered on the banks of the Clyde, showing how truly important the shipbuilding industry remains to the region. It is often said by locals that ‘the Clyde made Glasgow and Glasgow made the Clyde’ and with over 30,000 ships in total being built across its shipyards, shipbuilding is very much in the river’s DNA.

Marine People to spearhead IMarEST's search for a new Chief Executive

Marine People are delighted to announce our appointment as an executive search partner for the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology in their bid to find a new Chief Executive.

The institute is looking to find a replacement for David Loosley, who is stepping down following a successful nine years as Chief Executive and Secretary at the IMarEST.

David paid tribute to the Institute and his staff in IMarEST’s official statement:

“It’s been a privilege to lead the Institute through a very exciting period and I believe I’ll be leaving the Institute in a much stronger place than when I joined. It feels like a very different organisation: more impactful; more innovative; more open; more inclusive and more efficient. And that’s down to the committed volunteers all around the world, my brilliant executive teams in London and Singapore and in our associated businesses Marine People and MLA College. Thank you, everyone.”

The next few months will see outgoing Chief Executive David Loosley work with the IMarEST’s Board of Trustees and executive team as they look to ensure a smooth transition, whilst David will continue to represent the Institute until the summer.

James Martin, Director at Marine People said:

“Being selected as the executive search partner for such an important position shows the strong bond that Marine People has with the IMarEST as a Marine Partner.

“We look forward to embracing the challenge of finding a replacement for David and would like to congratulate him on a thoroughly successful nine years at the Institute. We also like to wish him good luck in his future endeavours.”

To apply for this prestigious role at a renowned international membership body and learned society, please contact for more information.

IR35: What, Why and When?

With the new IR35 changes looming, we look at what what the legislation involves, why it is being and implemented and how it will affect contractors in the maritime industry.

in April 2020, the new changes for ‘off-payroll working rules’ will come into place as the government look to ensure contractors that work like employees but operate via an intermediary, pay the correct national insurance, but how will this revised legislation affect you?

When do these rules come in?

The changes to the current Finance Act of 2000 come into place on the 6th April next year.

At Marine People we are happy to advise all of our contractors on any issues that you may have around the new rules, the key is to be proactive if you are considering taking contract positions post April 2020.

Why the change?

Currently, IR35 legislation states that Personal Service Companies (PSC) must ‘self-assess’ the contractors that they administer for, to ensure they are compliant with the law. HMRC however have concluded that there is widespread non compliance with the current rules and have introduced legislation that requires all medium and large businesses to assess their contractors. Small businesses that use contractors however will be exempt from the changes.

The phrases ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ IR35 may be ones you have heard quite a lot, these refer to whether a contracted role applies to the regulations on off payroll rules (inside) or whether the contractor will have to pay national insurance contributions (NIC) equivalent to that of a normal employee.

The legislation attempts to prevent individuals known as disguised employees from avoiding tax, working as self-employed contractors through a PSC even though they do the same job and have roughly the same conditions as an employee.

  Three key factors in determining IR35 compliance


  • Supervision, Direction, and Control: What degree of supervision, direction and control does your client have over what, how, when and where you complete your contract and day to day work?
  • Substitution: Are you required to carry out the work yourself, or you can you send someone in your place?
  • Mutuality of obligation: Is your client obliged to offer you work, and are you obliged to accept it?

How else can I prepare?

If you are really unsure going forward with a contract position prior to April 6th, you could seek a ‘Confirmation of Agreement’ between you and your client, this would ultimately protect you as the contractor from any irregularities as the new rules state that it is the clients responsibility to ensure their contractors are ‘inside’ IR35.

Another way to re-assure yourself that you are complying correctly with the new legislation is to get some second opinions from other contractors who may have experienced the same difficulties, has a forum which may be useful for speaking to other contractors.

For a basic outline of whether you are currently IR35 compliant in a contractor role, you can complete the test here, although this isn’t always definitive when it comes to investigating your tax status as a contractor.

We would always recommend speaking to an expert if you are unsure, many agencies that provide Personal Service Companies will usually be happy to assist you.

How to answer competency based interview questions

More and more engineering interviews are now being conducted as competency-based. Although competency-based interviews aren’t new (they have been around since the 1980s), they are fast becoming one of the most popular interview formats, meaning that you need to know what to expect, how to prepare, and how best to answer competency-based interview questions.

Competency-based interviews are unsurprisingly looking to ascertain your competence to do a job. Rather than just assessing your technical skills or qualifications, many of which can be understood from your CV, a competency-based interview will assess your skills and behaviours in previous work-based scenarios, on the basis that your previous behaviours will be indicative of your future ones. 

Your experience is often a given at this point, it has got you the interview, so being able to confidently pass a competency-based interview, and demonstrate the competencies better than the other candidates, is usually standing between you and your next role.

Competency-based interviews are generally similar in content but will be unique to a company’s internal competency framework. Common competencies include teamwork, communication, personal effectiveness, leadership, problem solving and organisation.

Within a competency-based interview, the interviewer is looking for you to demonstrate when and how you have demonstrated the required competency in the past. Questions tend to start with phrases like ‘tell me a time when’ or ‘give me an example of’. They will always allow you to describe a scenario. So, thinking about teamwork, a competency question might be:

"Tell me about a time when you have been part of a team?"


Using this example, I am sure that you would be able to answer without too much thought. You are very likely to have worked as part of a team and be able to describe it. However, the trick is to think about the absolute best example that you can, and one that you can expand. The reason for this is the interviewer will want to broaden the question until you demonstrate the competence fully, with subsequent ‘drill-down’ questions, in this scenario, these could be:

"What role did you play within the team?"
"What challenges did this present?"
"What would you do differently next time?"

As you are likely to have several examples for any one question, take the time to pause and think about the best scenario. We have seen on many occasions, interviewees barely take a breath and start with an example that they realise halfway through doesn’t really fit the question or one that is difficult to expand.

Before the interview have a look at the job description or advert, does it mention any competencies? Is it looking for a team player? someone with leadership skills, a great communicator? This can help you prepare some great scenarios based on what the company has already told you. A browse on the website and a read of the company’s values can also give you great insight into what they might ask you.

If you are not used to answering competency-based interview questions, the STAR technique is a great way to practice, as it structures your responses for you. STAR stands for:

  • Situation- Set the Scene
  • Task- Describe the Purpose
  • Action- Explain what you did
  • Result- Share the outcome



Practising with the STAR technique will ensure that your examples always demonstrate a complete competency. Have example scenarios prepared for all key competencies before your interview, pause and allow yourself time to think of the best example, and ensure that the examples that you use demonstrate a positive outcome for you, whether it be in a successful scenario, or a lesson learnt in a challenging scenario.

Although competency-based interview questions can be a daunting prospect to the unpractised, when prepared you will find that it sets you up for a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your complete suitability and competence for the role. 

Good luck!