AAPA Seaports Magazine, June 2019: Workforce Development

Workforce Development Starts with Education

By Kurt J. Nagle

President & CEO, American Association of Port Authorities

It has been rewarding for me over the years to interact with so many dynamic port professionals and industry partners. Over my career at AAPA, I have seen a wide range of career pathways that have led to the port industry. Many of my port friends and colleagues have backgrounds that might seem odd. From reporter turned port executive to longshoreman to engineer, veteran to operations manager and banker to port finance director. I have often wondered if this is unique to the port industry or if perhaps there really is no such thing as a linear career pathway.

Sometimes, as we set our career course for the future, things don’t always turn out the way we expect. In fact, often we find ourselves in different fields of work. I, for example, studied to be an economist but eventually made my way from the National Coal Association to AAPA from starting in the membership department to ultimately becoming president and CEO. While my background and education has served me well, I have learned much of what I know about the port industry from attending seminars, listening to members and reading my fair share of trade publications.

Similarly, many of our members have made their way into port jobs and have had to avail themselves of various opportunities to grow and understand this industry. The AAPA professional development board that oversees the Professional Port Manager program has helped to make this easier for many of our members by ensuring that professional development remains a critical priority for our association. AAPA provides countless opportunities for members to seek out training, networking and education to promote career growth and advancement.

This issue of Seaports magazine is devoted to looking at the various aspects of workforce development including professional development. I was astounded to read the stories and backgrounds of our PPM candidates in the article titled “The Road to Success.” For these members, professional development has been critical to their success and growth and, in particular, each of these folks is part of one of the three cohorts of the AAPA PPM.

For those who are reaching retirement, it is amazing to think of how many job vacancies there will be in the next two decades by those who are closing in on the final season of their careers. There could be as many as seven million job openings over the next 20 years and ports are going to have to be very creative to train, upskill and reskill employees to fill these jobs. In the article “Apprenticeship Programs,” we take a close look at the tried and true method that has worked so well in training for specific jobs. Today, the apprenticeship model is being used to train a wide range of specializations – from logistics to IT – making it possible to learn while on the job.

Despite the efforts to place qualified candidates into port or port-related jobs, there are other factors that make this difficult. Often, there is not a lot of awareness for careers in the port industry or it is difficult to find a pool of candidates that have strong enough basic skills to be retrained. As our “Bustling Ports Straining Security Staffing” article indicates, the jobs available may not offer market wages yet require a high level of risk, or there is competition from other industries looking for professionals with the same qualifications.

While there is no perfect answer to the workforce dilemma, it is clear that the issue cannot be ignored. Education is a critical part of the equation, whether for your own professional development or for the development of your local workforce. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn more about your ports’ needs and plan ahead. Setting a course forward will help our industry remain competitive and prepared.

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