Having learned to drive a dockside Tugmaster before learning to drive a car, Gemma Griffin obviously has shipping in her blood.
A fact now underlined by the award of an MBE (Member of the British Empire) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, for the senior DFDS leader’s dedication to ‘people evolution’ in the shipping industry – an outstanding contribution to employment and training.
Gemma, Vice-President of Human Resources and Crewing at DFDS and based at its Kent office, joined the ferry line 24 years ago, and has become a major industry figure. On the Board of the UK Chamber of Shipping she also chairs its Employment Committee. As a member of the Merchant Navy Training Board, she leads the industry’s Maritime Trailblazer Apprenticeship Committee and is also a member of the Department for Transport's Merchant Navy Medal Board, which rewards people for their achievements in merchant shipping roles.
With the Chamber of Shipping, Gemma helps to shape how UK employment law applies to shipping; manages the relationships between shipping companies, unions and government; shares best practice and talks to the Government on behalf of the industry.
Current key issues for the Employment Committee are securing seafarers' rights in a post-Brexit environment, a national campaign on seafarers’ mental wellbeing, and schemes to encourage more women and young people into the Merchant Navy.
“My Chamber work is a great opportunity to work with and represent the interests of the whole shipping industry: everything from harbour tugs to fishing vessels, and deep-sea container shipping to the offshore oil industry,” said Gemma.
“Our work helps to promote careers at sea to young people, securing the industry’s future through a steady flow of new ratings and officers. I’m overjoyed that we’re currently shaping the national agenda by focussing on mental and physical wellbeing and greater opportunities for women - especially as the theme for IMO World Maritime Day 2019 is 'Empowering Women In the Maritime Community'
“I’m very proud to become an MBE, but I’ve had fantastic support from my team and colleagues at DFDS, the Merchant Navy Training Board team, our unions, and the other members of the Chamber. This award is as much more about the work we all do together
“So, I want to accept the award as recognition for the many who have come together to deliver some fantastic work, building consensus across the industry to ensure careers at sea are attractive, rewarding and offer life-long opportunities.”
Gemma, aged 49 and an Irish citizen, began her shipping career as an administrator at the port of Dublin. Working for a start-up ferry company during the early 1990s, she was soon hooked by the industry.
“I loved learning from the team there and talking to people about their concerns, gaining hands-on experience working with a highly unionised workforce. I knew then I wanted to work with people and to develop my interest in how organisations can build effective relationships with their employees.”
That passion continues to drive Gemma and the projects that she leads. In 2012 she worked with the Merchant Navy Training Board to launch the UK’s first apprenticeship scheme for ratings in the ferry industry. This grew from studies showing the average age of UK Merchant Navy ratings at the time was 50, suggesting the supply of new ratings in the UK could dry up within 20 years.
Working with the Merchant Navy Training Board, trades unions and DFDS, Gemma helped reverse that trend and offer an alternative career path for young people. When the Government then introduced new Trailblazer Apprenticeship schemes in 2017, Gemma was asked to lead on behalf of UK shipping.
She said: “I’m very proud of the record we’ve developed at DFDS for offering cradle to grave opportunities for seafarers, and at a time when the industry is becoming more
technology-driven. We have several outstanding captains who came into the industry as apprentices and worked their way up through the ranks and they are fantastic role models for young people who sign up for our scheme.
“We also run a 'ratings to officer' programme which enables the right crewmembers to progress to Captain or Chief Engineer, without using the traditional officers’ education route. We’re about to recruit our seventh cohort of apprentices and we’re reaching out to local Kent schools to promote the scheme’s opportunities this month.
"Some of my best moments have been watching young men and women join us as apprentices and seeing them grow into confident and competent seafarers who share our passion for exceptional customer service.”
Commenting on Gemma's MBE, Kasper Moos, Senior Vice-President for DFDS in the UK said: “She is very modest about her contribution to the wellbeing and advancement of people in our industry, and would have liked to keep this award a secret but, of course, we wanted to let everyone know.”
Gemma now awaits news of where and when she will be invested with her MBE. “I keep thinking that the Palace got my name wrong, especially when it’s a reward for something I love doing and I’m passionate about. Mum and Dad are delighted, and my children were thrilled when I told them. For an Irish girl from a humble background in Dublin this award is very special. I have a big family who will want to celebrate – I’m worried half of Ireland will want to come over for the investiture."
Gemma has two sons and a daughter and lives in Hythe, Kent. She grew up in Dublin watching ferries and ships sailing in and out, causing her gravitation to the industry. Though she entered as an administrator, she worked her way up through the ranks to her current role as a DFDS Vice-President. She holds degrees in Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management and in English and History. Gemma joined DFDS in 1995 and transferred to Dover when the company bought Norfolkline in 2012, then helping to build its English Channel business.
About DFDS: DFDS is Northern Europe’s largest integrated shipping and logistics company, with a network of around 30 routes and 50 freight and passenger ships.
DFDS prides itself on offering world-class facilities and services and the widest choice of ferry routes into northern Europe.
In the UK, the company operates passenger ferry services on routes from Dover to Calais, Dover to Dunkirk, Newcastle to Amsterdam and Newhaven to Dieppe.
DFDS has been named ‘Europe’s Leading Ferry Operator’ for eight years running (2012-2019), as well as the ‘World’s Leading Ferry Operator’ for the last seven years (2011-18).
DFDS currently operates up to 54 sailings a day between Dover and France on its Dover-Dunkirk and Dover-Calais routes. DFDS also offers two daily sailings between Newcastle and Amsterdam. In addition, the DFDS network includes a passenger and freight service between Newhaven to Dieppe, which has four daily sailings and is operated by Transmanche Ferries.
For further information about DFDS, or to find out about the latest sailing times, fares and offers across all routes from the UK, visit www.dfds.co.uk