Jahquan Smith-DeShields is playfully known as “the future” by his colleagues at the Hamilton docks. At 22, the junior mechanic is a fresh face in a tough business, where virtually all of the island’s essentials come to shore.

Stevedoring Services Ltd confirmed the new hire this month, as part of the company’s effort to build a Bermudian workforce that is internally self-sufficient and sustainable. Jahquan took a break from supplementary training last week to share his journey, which started on the bottom rung in the summer of 2015. “There’s a lot going; it was amazing to see,” Jahquan said. “I never noticed the docks before, just walked past.”

Once a striker for North Village Rams, Jahquan decided in 2014 to start working towards a career, and began studying as a mechanic at Milton Keynes College in Britain. A family member worked for Stevedoring Services and put in a word with the company for Jahquan to get a closer look at life on the docks. In the summer of 2015, he took an unpaid internship, coming to the docks twice a week to “give a hand and get a feel for how it’s run”.

With no guarantee of a job at the end of it, Jahquan took a gamble, worked for free, and fitted right in. “The people around me really kept me into it, getting me to watch tasks and telling me ‘One day it’ll be your turn’.”

An army of specialised equipment unloads ships, and dock mechanics have to think fast while navigating a dangerous job. A tyre explosion on one of the big lifters is “not as scary as you think — you just hear a big boom”, he said.

Jahquan added: “If a car breaks down coming off the ship, you’ve got to jump-start it and get it moving.” He returned to the docks in the summer of 2016 with “a little more money on the budget — they kept me as an apprentice”. Then, still with no promise of a full-time job, he spent four months training at Caribbean Maritime University in Old Harbour, Jamaica.

The university is the only certified maritime university in the English-speaking Caribbean and provides certification and training to Stevedoring Services staff. Jahquan learnt preventive maintenance and safety, ultimately proving himself to his supervisors back in Bermuda.

He said: “You’ve got to show what you’re made of.” In the end, perseverance paid off and Jahquan joined the Stevedoring Services team. “It’s fun — how else can I say it?” he said. “I like to get in there working. Sometimes I just like getting dirty.”

Originally published in the Royal Gazette.