Mapping future port ecosystem talent

The metro style map shows a port's ecosystem at a glance

Maurice Jansen outlines a new project to position maritime talent as a force for change for ports

Today, 55% of the world population live in urban areas, of which some 37% live within 100 kilometres of a coast. According to the United Nations, 68% of world population will live in cities by 2050. Heavy pressure from population, port development and urban development in coastal areas, places ports and their cities at a pivotal moment.

With so many people living and working in coastal regions, the importance of ports and port-cities will continue to grow, not just as economic powerhouses but as catalysts for sustainable renewal. These economic hotspots are increasingly attracting talent and turning port-cities with the best ecosystems into the maritime capitals of the world. As we stand at this crossroad, how should we orchestrate knowledge in these port-city ecosystems so that maritime talent becomes a force of transitional change towards decarbonised and zero waste supply chains and societies?

Today’s maritime capitals are no longer competing on location factors. If you approach competition from an ecosystem perspective, metropolitan port-cities in coastal regions compete on their adaptive capacity - their ability to continually adjust to changing dynamics - both in the environment as well as in the marketplace. They do this on the basis of the accumulation of intangible knowledge, inherited over generations of maritime expertise, closely knit in a dense social network, which is not easily transferrable. The art of it is to know how to orchestrate the ecosystem, how to combine the financial capital with the human capital of the port ecosystem and unlock value for businesses, talent and professionals.

Strategic aims

In September of this year, Rotterdam launched a new brand strategy. Rotterdam has the ambition to be the leading maritime capital of Europe, not just the biggest port. The Rotterdam Maritime Board, representing many major lead firms in and around Rotterdam, supported this new initiative which focuses on attracting investors in less visible maritime services, such as in banking, marine insurance, commodity trading and education and training.

A clear expression of its endeavour is the schematic ‘metro’ map featured here, which provides an up-to-date comprehensive view of education, research, innovation and development centres in Rotterdam. It visualises where maritime knowledge is created, bundled and allocated to knowledge intensive activities, such as education and training programmes, research and development, maritime test and training centres, field labs, and the like.

There are obvious nodes such as the Erasmus University Rotterdam, Delft University of Technology, TNO, and Deltares, as well as the Shipping and Transport College and RDM Campus. Innovation campuses and start-up incubators link directly to these universities, showing their ongoing investments in bringing innovation into the ecosystem through entrepreneurship. Altogether, the map reflects how attractive this maritime knowledge infrastructure is for corporates, start-up incubators and maritime entrepreneurs. The dense network of connections reflects the open culture, low entry barriers, and close social networks. This acts as a red carpet for foreign entrepreneurs, enabling them to make easy crossovers, which is just what is needed to launch ideas.

An instant view

Knowledge has many forms, sources and applications. This comprehensive map is a snapshot of a highly dynamic ecosystem. What makes this infographic so powerful is that it visualises the width and depth of the maritime ecosystem in Rotterdam. It is an invitation to any stakeholder who wants to tap into this vast knowledge landscape, to navigate along the arteries and into the nodes by linking directly to the institute, department, research centre or education campus. Also, policy makers at the city government and port authority now have an instant overview of one of their most intangible assets, maritime knowledge, and how it connects to foster human capital development, innovation and entrepreneurship.

These knowledge maps could be just as important for other ports and their cities. We see clear evidence that ports and their cities are adopting ‘inclusive growth’ and sustainable development strategies, which implies the need to raise human capital and skills. In March 2018, ports around the world signed up for the International Association of Ports and Harbors’ World Ports Sustainability Program, which aims to contribute to sustainable development goals (SDGs), while a number of national port master plans have already started to include social along with environmental standards, such as in India and Indonesia.

What we are also witnessing are the competency gaps which are hampering sustainable development. In many ports around the world, in both developed and developing countries, knowledge is fragmented and scattered. There may be many maritime training and education institutes across a country, but an integrated approach of a (national) port masterplan with the required maritime knowledge infrastructure is often not taken. This asks for more cohesion between training and education institutes as well as between port masterplans and human capital agendas.

In developed ecosystems, the maritime knowledge infrastructure may be sufficiently available now, but lacks modern facilities where business and research can work together on the technologies of the future.

Aligned objectives

The objective must be to align stakeholders and set a common agenda on human capital development, research and education and innovation. In the future maritime capitals of the world, innovation is not just a goal, it is a movement from the bottom up, where technology is equally as important as creativity, where individual talent is just as vital as collaboration.

Collaborative innovation does not just happen, it needs to be orchestrated through partnerships. People and policy makers who understand the value of the ecosystem are more inclined to partner together and engage in co-creation with students and young professionals. Employers who recognise this force of change in young talent are better equipped to make the transition to sustainable business models. For maritime talent to join in the movement the ‘what’s in it for me’ mindset needs to be replaced with a ‘what’s in it for us’ approach. You’d better play their music, and play it right.

Maurice Jansen works as a senior researcher at Erasmus Centre for Urban, Ports and Transport Economics at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Mr Jansen considers ports and port cities as breeding grounds for talent, innovation and entrepreneurship. From this perspective, he supports policy making and works on initiatives that lead to breakthroughs in solving port and port-city issues.




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