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The ‘future ports workforce*’? Getting started on a hard question…

It seemed like a simple enough question. What are the future skills needs of the port sector? But – when asked to a round table of HR Directors from port operators – it became clear that the question is anything but simple.

The ports sector is committed to skills development. Major port operators operate high quality apprenticeships. They frequently have their own training facilities – from traditional classroom setting to state-of-the-art immersive simulators. And they work closely with a range of external training skills and training providers.

But the modern port is very different from the port of history. It is increasingly shaped by forces such as globalisation of supply chains and technologies such as digitisation. It is also shaped by external imperatives such as sustainability. We expect these trends to not only continue but to accelerate. Indeed, in some respects the COVID-19 pandemic experience in port operations has been something of a crash course in several aspects of ‘the future’. All of this has implications for people working in ports – now and into the future.

Our current experience, and our opening guess, is that we are increasingly needing to go into new territory for the skills and talent we need. That these territories are more contested – a lot of employers will want people with data skills, for example. And we will need to up our game in terms of our proposition to new people and how we develop existing colleagues.

That is a pretty complicated outlook. It is a vital topic to get a grip on. Technology, processes and ways of working are only as successful as the people designing, directing and operating them.

What is the answer? We, as a sector, need to think deeply about the questions. Achieving a better understanding of these dimensions, and the ways to address them is not a unique challenge to any one individual port operator (although the specifics of implementation inevitably will be). We need to not only come together but also ask others – business, unions, academics – for their insights and to challenge ourselves. We need to consider the whole ‘future port workforce’ picture to understand its different success factors.

So we are delighted that the Maritime Skills Commission has agreed to support a research project to look at this topic.

Over the next couple of months we will be surveying the ports sector and working with others to answer the exam question ‘what does the likely future ports workforce and ways of working look like and how can the sector transition from today’s position?’. The end results will be available to all.

If you want to be involved, get in touch. We will be posting more blogs as we go along so stay tuned!

We’re shamelessly ‘borrowing’ and adapting a phrase from our (very impressive) friends in maritime the Royal Marines and their ‘Future Commando Force’ initiative