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The ‘Trick’ to Training a Competent Workforce

Defining where worker training and development should start and where it should end may be the answer.

* By Lori Musser *

Ports generate plenty of jobs. In the United States, alone, there were 31 million at last count – 2.3 million within the port sector and the remainder in related industries. Filling all these positions with top-notch talent and maximizing their contributions is an immense challenge.

Addressing the challenge is critical. “If employees aren’t the right fit or don’t have the right skill set or resources, they won’t perform well. They might leave. The port will lag behind. Competitiveness eventually suffers,” said Joan MacLeod, director of human resources and administration for the Halifax Port Authority.

For the Port of Oakland, which ranks as one of America’s busiest container ports, the tasks of recruiting, training and developing the workforce are part of its broad social responsibility objectives. Julina Bonilla, the port’s workforce development manager, said, “We have public community engagement for every port plan. We review all port contracting opportunities and credit is given to small businesses and others. We also administer and oversee maritime and aviation project labor agreements that have embedded provisions for local hire.”

Above and beyond that, Bonilla said, “Construction employers and contractors with a scope of greater than $1 billion contribute 30 cents per hour for the social justice accountability trust. The money is parceled out for apprenticeships, training in construction” and similar initiatives that benefit the community.

It boils down to managing multiple port and stakeholder goals. Although all ports deploy workers in their quest to enhance economic prosperity, the true trick in training may well be defining where worker training and development should start and where it should end.

First and foremost, seaport authorities recruit and train for their own needs. With small staffs, often numbering less than 100 souls, they recruit through traditional and online methods. They may offer internships, apprenticeships, and a wide range of on-the-job training or career progression opportunities.

Second, ports may advocate for human resource excellence and efficiency among their port partners, represented by perhaps tens of thousands of workers per port. Port authorities may guide, support or sponsor training related to port projects or industry developments. In this era of globalization, rapid technological change, big ships and superior security, there are immense needs for continuing education. Ports back training in sustainability, technological expertise, languages, equipment operation, digital ‘paperwork’ and many more specialties, alongside their private industry partners and their public agency partners (i.e. U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Agriculture).

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