Investment on in-house training can pay off for some ports. Dave MacIntyre explains
It seems more ports are taking the plunge and investing in their own educational facilities in order to guarantee the standard of trained employees - and are prepared to outlay sizeable amounts to do so. But does it make sense for ports to invest in their own in-house training centres rather than rely on specialist third-party providers?
Singapore’s Jurong Port, a leading international multipurpose port whose main gateway terminal in Singapore has 32 berths receiving more than 15,000 vessels each year, launched the Jurong Port Academy in January 2017. The educational facility aims to create a “future-ready workforce for a next-generation multipurpose port” and will train and certify port professionals to apply the latest mechanisation and automation technologies such as sideloaders for more efficient steel cargo handling. In addition, Jurong has built a dedicated training yard within the port for workers to conduct hands-on equipment training.
Close to S$3m (US$2.1m) has been invested in the academy as part of the port’s efforts to leverage new technology and innovation to increase productivity and upskill port workers. It sees a technology-enabled workforce moving away from routine and labour-intensive tasks to focus on productive and higher value-added activities.
Ooi Boon Hoe, Jurong’s chief executive, says key objectives are to upskill the workforce, develop rewarding career pathways and attract new talent into the industry. ‘’In the lead up to the Academy launch, Jurong Port has worked tirelessly to engage with all stakeholders to ensure that there is strong buy-in, and similar consultative efforts have also taken place in other areas where we wish to improve port operations, safety and cargo handling.’’
Establishment of the academy involved consultation with government agencies such as the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore who provided strong backing and funding support. Representatives of the workers and stevedore community in Jurong have also played a significant role.
To ensure the academy stays relevant, Jurong will form a Learning Council comprising representatives from the stevedore community and the National Transport Workers’ Union to advise on training activities.
Matter of policy
Forth Ports is another company that sees the benefits of investing in in-house training and has enshrined the philosophy into the corporate policy statement for its Scottish Ports Division, which brings together the operations of Grangemouth, Leith, Rosyth, Dundee, Methil and Burntisland.
It states: “Scottish Ports believe competitive advantage is achieved through ensuring training needs are linked to business strategy … we regard training and development as an important feature of business development. Within the Scottish Ports' policy, workplace training plays a key role in meeting skill demands. It is a continuous process supporting organisation development.”
Among the training available are programmes in personal development (such as management development and training up to nationally-recognised qualifications such as the Diploma in Port Management); specialist plant training (on for example gantry cranes and straddle carriers); safety training; a graduate programme to meet future staffing needs in areas such as operations, management information systems and finance; and business and training partnerships with local companies which maximise the benefits of each company's experience and identifies common training needs.
Other development incorporates apprenticeships, further and higher education, VQs (Vocational Qualifications – nationally-recognised standards and qualifications), professional accreditation, and continuous assessments
Jackie Anderson, Forth Ports’ human resources director, says that with 1,200 people on the payroll across the group, the company believes development is key to maintaining a loyal and committed workforce.
“By creating our own training programmes it allows us to cost-effectively deliver induction, driver instruction, continuous assessment [regular and ongoing internal process to review skills and knowledge of individuals to assess competency against statutory or internal mandatory standards], IOSH [Institution of Occupational Safety and Health] and other safety training for example, manual handling.
“We have found that there is a lack of competent cost-effective external training providers as we need specific training for our own plant and equipment.”
Ms Anderson says Forth Ports designs its training on a mix of legal requirements, policy requirements, learning outcomes and, where applicable, the manufacturers’ handbooks.
The company takes steps to guarantee that once its has trained staff, it will retain them – “The majority of our training is bespoke to our business. However if the training or development is of a high cost, for example university fees, then the individual signs a repayment agreement if they leave the company within two years.”
Ms Anderson says that as a diverse and very busy business “we do find some challenges in scheduling the training against the demands of the business. We have a blended learning approach to training and development and this includes in-house programmes, outsourced training, coaching, e-learning and self-directed learning”.
Forth Ports also generates income by opening up a number of programmes to external people, for example a first aid course or IOSH programme.
Some port training enterprises have grown so much they have spread their wings beyond their own port.
The Port of Antwerp’s APEC (Antwerp/Flanders Port Training Center), has been giving port training seminars since 1977. Around 15,000 people from all over the world have joined in seminars since then, gaining from a repertoire of knowledge and skills provided by both the private and public maritime sector in Flanders.
Now, APEC has opened a purpose-built training facility in Mumbai for Indian port professionals who follow APEC courses. The courses have been available to Indian students since 2015 when APEC signed a five-year agreement with the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), the largest container port in India.
At that time, JNPT planned to expand rapidly in container handling, and to help it achieve this ambition it turned to APEC for a tailor-made series of courses, covering among other things port management, infrastructure development, maintenance and security.
Initially the courses were held in temporary accommodation, but now the JNPT-APEC Port Training and Consultancy Foundation is the main base. About 400 people annually will be trained as port managers by lecturers and instructors from Antwerp and India.
Although some ports declined to disclose the size of their training investment, one port which did tell Port Strategy was the New Zealand port of Napier. It invested over NZ$750,000 (US$525,000) in New Zealand’s first mobile harbour crane simulator, purchased in 2015 from Canada and opened in November 2015.
Napier Port chief executive Garth Cowie says the investment gives the port “one of the most realistic simulations in the world today and features an exact replication of Napier Port’s shipside and crane operating environments, including terminal layout, equipment, vessels and vehicles, right down to quayside conditions such as shadows, wind and ship movement.”
Napier Port senior crane operator Phil Taana, who led a training programme for Fijians with Peter van Veelen, says the simulator gives drivers the opportunity to upskill, practise difficult scenarios and build their confidence in a safe environment, without using valuable equipment.
“It’s also cut down the crane operator selection process by about 90% – we know very quickly if someone has the right skills and hand-eye co-ordination for the job.”
SIMULATORS ATTRACT EXTERNAL TRAINING
Napier’s simulator has allowed the port to develop a comprehensive external training programme for crane drivers, which leverages both the world-class technology and the skill of the port’s own staff. The first international customers arrived in September last year, four crane drivers from Fiji Ports.
They undertook a week-long programme which included coaching in Napier’s crane operation best practices and instruction in the Vortex crane simulator. They also developed an understanding of best practice health and safety, basic crane maintenance and driver-based equipment care. The Fijians were able to practice their technique both in the simulator and in the port’s mobile harbour cranes.
Says Napier chief executive Garth Cowie: “Through the Napier programme, the crane drivers were able to refine their techniques in more complex manoeuvres, ultimately enabling them to load a vessel faster.
“They were already experienced and competent crane operators, but by focusing on difficult operations such as stacking 20-foot containers within 40-foot cells inside the vessel and working blind (using only cameras and radio guidance to load containers in the hold), they were able to improve their loading time.
“We were very pleased to be able to call the programme a success, and are looking forward to further strengthening our relationship with Fiji Ports, and to offering our training programme to a wider audience.”
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