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Dave Pearce, Shield Marine Director announces retirement

Dave Pearce is a well known figure in the Marine Industry and even more so at Shield Services Group, where has worked for over 30 years.
Dave set up the Shield Marine Division, so when he announced his retirement we took the opportunity to ask him a few questions, and include a few photos.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to work in:

a: the Marine Industry,

I was born and raised on the Isles of Scilly and was always close to the sea – either in it or on it – and I consider these early years to have been a real benefit to my development. Growing up on a small Island is a unique experience in itself, but for me, it gave me an insight from an early age on the importance of being able to play, work and travel by boat.

When I left the Islands and came to Cornwall, I kept up my relationship with the sea in both my leisure and work activities and continued along a similar path with leisure competitive rowing and sailing, in and around Falmouth. I also worked at oyster fishing and boat repairs in the area and felt very fortunate to be living close to the sea.

I later became involved in a project in Bergen, Norway, through a friend who had been involved in sea fishing projects all over the world. The work was R&D on a system for long lining on large sea going fishing vessels. We were based on an island off Bergen and the work was varied, often having to work through the night preparing for the next day’s operations. At the time, I found the work interesting and demanding and so I suppose in the main my life continued along the same path of Marine activities.

I guess that circumstance often steers our course and the choices we make. Add to that the influences of our peers which helps shape our future. The combination of all these things influences our journey and direction and of course, our own experiences as we go through life.

& b: Shield?

I first heard of Shield in the early nineties, when the company was looking for assistance at Falmouth Docks on a marine project that was due to commence imminently. I contacted them through the project manager Paul Foster from Bristol and started on the same day.

The work involved marine joinery and insulation – both of which I had some previous experience of, and the extent of the work was the modification within the holds of four large Japanese Reefers.

The first of these went well and we were subsequently invited to continue with the other vessels. And so my relationship with Shield had begun.

How did the Shield Marine Division start?

After the work at Falmouth on the reefers, we were asked to submit prices for work on a large RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) ship. We won the work and I managed the project.

Following this project, the relationship between A&P Falmouth and Shield was established and I was tasked with developing the business within Falmouth docks. I started visiting the docks weekly looking for works – which proved successful and although the industry at the time was in the doldrums, I managed to develop the business by linking up with new and existing contacts.

A real turning point for me was when Phillip House, MD of Shield called me –  I remember I was at The Southampton boat show when Phil called. He asked if I would like to join Shield and set up the Shield Marine Division. I accepted and from there was given the freedom to manage and develop the division completely, with the support of Shield.

What challenges have you faced over the years?

There have certainly been lots of interesting challenges and a few come to mind.

The industry was and still is full of challenges, often requiring working through the night at sea or in port. I remember one occasion when a client requested attendance to the docks within the hour. I was working nearby with a colleague and we went straight to the dock where we boarded a service launch. We were taken out into the bay, which led to us climbing up the side of a ship in a fairly lumpy sea on a rope ladder with no idea of what we were going to be doing.  Although this was a challenge then, it was also an insight into this industry and something that is done on a very regular basis by pilots.

Working on in-services vessels carrying out repairs is something you need to be ready for as it happened regularly. We were quite often required to travel at the drop of a hat, anywhere, to either view or carry out work. These were urgent requests and if you didn’t go you simply didn’t get the work – it was very much a case of just getting on with it and at the time, it didn’t really seem to be a problem!

I had to get used to fire-fighting projects to complete to an ever changing schedule. This was the industry back then and very much the norm. Refits always worked to a tight schedule and were commonly shortened due to the ship being required back in service and earning their keep. This usually meant that we had to be ready for anything at a moment’s notice with extra works being thrown at us daily. I actually really enjoyed these challenges as the clients came to me for solutions and repeat work, knowing we would always complete in time. In the early days, it was normal for us to work all day and all night to make sure the job was completed so the ship could get back into service. This really was the highest priority for me – to complete the work no matter what.

There seemed to be less emphasis on Health and Safety at the time, which was also challenging; very little paperwork meant safety advice was verbal, making it difficult to keep track of – although I must say there was an abundance of common sense within the teams. Obviously, Health & Safety standards have changed quite a bit since then but the combination of more regulated policies and procedures and the heavier emphasis on documentation were still challenging but in a different way.

As the division grew, so did my knowledge of the industry and over the years, most of the people I have worked with – clients and colleagues alike – have become friends. I think I can safely say that all of us, through sharing and exchanging information and experiences, have gained a lifetime of knowledge.

I believe that challenges are what we learn from and improve upon.

What is/are your most memorable projects?

I have been involved in lots of great projects of which many were memorable but when I think back, I guess the one that had a very direct impact for the Marine division was a Ferry conversion in Falmouth.

The project involved the ship being cut in half and extended, and we took on so many different types of work on that project; picking up extra work on a daily basis from insulation, joinery and even to plumbing in a vacuum toilet system, we did it all and I realised that with the right contacts and specialists we could adapt to any situation and provide almost any services.

Another project which I personally enjoyed was an oil support vessel de-mobilisation project. I set my office up on board the vessel and worked very closely with a mixed team of client companies in close proximity. Working so closely, sharing responsibilities and creating operating procedures for safe and practical operations really opened my eyes to day to day operations of larger companies, where a structured approach to planning and safe working practices was essential, daily planning and operations meetings tied in the works and brought awareness to all the teams on the ship. The whole experience was new to me and something I learned from and brought back into our own working systems and procedures.

During my time at Shield, I’ve set up new branches in Newcastle and Southampton, and I’ve really enjoyed the camaraderie between the team and myself, especially when being away from home. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the team involved in those early years.

The stories, although in the past, were in my memory colourful and often fun – we all needed to stay cheerful.

What do you love about the Marine Industry and what has kept you motivated to stay the course over the years?

In short it’s the people. I have met some great people in the industry, from clients to employees to helpers and administrators, surveyors, inspectors, consultants, captains, officers, able seamen and cadets. All of whom have their part to play in this often interesting and varied industry, and most that I have met do a fantastic job.

I like meeting people and learning about them.

I’ve always been very passionate about the Maritime sector and have a keen interest in ships, so to me, this has not just been my work. I think the saying goes – ‘if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life’ right? That passion combined with the responsibility and respect for my teams, the bond between us and our clients and the company who gave me the opportunity to create and develop the Marine division of Shield – all of these have kept me motivated. And again, the people. People play such an important part, and not just the Shield team, but in general anyone from the Marine industry that I have worked with over the years.

What advice would you give to someone looking to work in the industry?

Things have changed enormously since I started in this industry and I would say that now, training is one of the most important aspects of any career and particularly the Marine Industry. Some key points to take away would be:

  • Get some health and safety training as this will further support your future.
  • Wherever possible apply yourself to a specific skill to get interested.
  • “just be very good at something”
  • Always communicate as much as you can with everyone – this pays dividends especially if you have a problem. You’ll find highly experienced people are more often than not, willing to offer support … take it.
  • Try your best and listen to people.

It’s a great industry.

On a more personal note, what is the significance of your RINA membership and why is it important to you?

I first heard of RINA in 2005 when I was involved in a new fire protection system for the large yacht code (LY2) vessels. This involved working with RINA architects and I formed a great respect for them.

RINA (The Royal Institution of Naval Architects) or the Institute as it’s known in the industry, is an internationally renowned professional institution whose members are involved at all levels in the design, construction, maintenance and operation of marine vessels and structures. Members of RINA are widely represented in the industry, universities and colleges and maritime organisations in over ninety countries and membership was always something I aspired to.

My first submission for membership with RINA was for an Associate Membership. I had to write a description of my experience and practical knowledge with examples of designs and areas that I had specialised in. I submitted this to RINA and was pleasantly surprised at their response which said I could become a member rather than an associate member due to my experience and knowledge.

A few years later was invited to apply for a fellowship (FRINA) which I successfully gained.

What’s next for you?

Believe it or not (and many won’t), I’m looking forward to retirement – preferably without Covid 19 restrictions so I can enjoy the Motorhome I’ve just bought! I’d like to also spend more time with my family and help them if I can; get back into woodworking and maybe pick up some new hobbies along the way.

I will of course be keeping in touch with my friends within the industry and at Shield, and I will still be connecting with the industry at trade shows, where I look forward to meeting up with likeminded people. I will also be available for guidance or advice and will offer support if needed.

Any closing remarks?

To close, I would like to thank all of the people that I have met along the way the people that have been on this journey with me – from the guys on the ground that make the whole thing work, to the planners and estimators that do so much behind the scenes, and of course, to the clients that had the confidence in using Shield Marine and continue to do so.

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