Professional Development Learning to Be Better

learning to be better

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. In past generations, port managers were typically certified in a functional area, such as accounting or engineering or marketing, and then learned the idiosyncrasies of ports on the job. Professionals looking for a chance to broaden their seaport acumen, advance their careers and even shape the future of port leadership had few options. That has changed.

Leadership Is Common Denominator in AAPA’S PPM® Program

One important professional development opportunity is the American Association of Port Authorities Professional Port Manager Program, or PPM®. Established in 1995, this educational and training initiative recognized the absence of a comprehensive seaport management certification in the Americas, and was created to help advance professional careers in public port management.

Dr. Noel Hacegaba, PPM®, is chairman of the AAPA Professional Development Board and deputy port director of the Port of Long Beach. He said, “The main goal of the PPM program is to prepare the next generation of port executives by equipping them with the skills, knowledge and competencies they will need to lead a port authority.”

Shannon McLeod, senior director of member services at AAPA, said that the PPM program provides a rigorous, meaningful experience, enabling candidates to build an essential industry-peer network, gain practical experience and strengthen professional credentials.

Port professionals seek additional education and certification for a variety of reasons. It isn’t uncommon, according to McLeod, for experienced port departmental managers to be “siloed.” For example, some managers who have been in the industry for years won’t know the meaning of common port acronyms from other functional areas. A port finance manager may not have been exposed to eRTGs (electric rubber-tired gantries), and a security manager may be unaware of the necessity of BCAs (projectbased benefit-cost analyses). Or, instead of being siloed within their departments, professionals may be siloed geographically, or by business type.

In the past, the PPM program attracted veteran port managers who demonstrated the potential to grow into executive level roles. “Today, the program also attracts port executives who may be new in their role or to the port authority space, as well as other executives who are in the port industry but who do not necessarily work for a port authority today,” Hacegaba said. “The common denominator is leadership.”

Having a mix of individuals with demonstrated leadership potential from every functional area of a port authority strengthens the overall learning experience of the program, said Hacegaba.

Important benefits of the PPM program are that candidates gain a holistic understanding of a port authority in significantly less time than by simply working at a port authority, and that the program helps ensure a consistent pipeline of talent to lead ports in the future.

Cathie Vick, PPM®, is chief development and public affairs officer for The Port of Virginia and serves on the curriculum committee of the PPM®, where she aims to build on the learning track to engage more and make it more experiential. She said, “The two main benefits of the PPM® for me both relate to perspective. One was learning different aspects of the port [through the required classes].” Individuals tend to be interested in the seminars within their wheelhouse. “It forces you out of your comfort zone, which [ultimately]helps you communicate better with other people within your organization,” she said. Another benefit was the rapport built with classmates. Even now, “With a network around the country you can call them and lean on them and connect with people in their organizations,” Vick said.

“The PPM program is about $10,000 per person, which includes two to three classes per year, membership on AAPA committees, access to port executives and managers throughout the country, and an unparalleled understanding of port operations, administration and management,” said McLeod.

The PPM program has been reshaped and retooled over the years, delivering flexibility, injecting academic rigor and aligning content to current needs. With the full and dedicated support of AAPA leadership and the Professional Development Board, “We are on an ongoing quest to ensure that the PPM® remains the flagship certification program across the port industry,” said Hacegaba.

Held over a two- to four-year term, PPM candidates have traditionally attended seminars in-person. Recent changes – in part inspired by pandemic restrictions and technological advancements – allow candidates to complete the program with a combination of online and in-person classes. Candidates are now able to mix and match coursework offered by AAPA and its other partners including LAMAR University and the International Association of Maritime and Port Executives, or IAMPE.

IAMPE Helping Optimize PPM®

Captain Jeff Monroe is director of education for IAMPE. He described the association’s educational offerings, which include the accredited Maritime Port Executive program (an intensive seminar that covers all aspects of port management), the Marine Terminal Operator program, and various continuing education programs.

IAMPE has more than 2,500 alumni and its participants are eligible for academic credit from five U.S. colleges, as well as the Australian Maritime College.

The AAPA-IAMPE collaboration on the PPM program is a natural fit, according to Monroe. IAMPE is offering the intensive week-long base programs, with AAPA providing the ongoing educational seminars. “We follow a specific curriculum and course of study. The 40-hour program is broken into 24 separate modules,” said Monroe.

IAMPE does not maintain a campus. Its programs travel to the region where needed.

Monroe said that IAMPE’s goals include minimizing the cost of its certifications and time invested while maximizing value to all port staff. “We provide a wide scope of information, put into context, for practical application. It is not just academic. It covers every element of port management and is a very progressive program,” he said.

Monroe underscored the value of the new comprehensive and dynamic port educational programs and certifications. However, he said there is always room for improvement. For example, someday he would like to see a single standard of progressive certification by career level – certification for entry-level port positions, for managers, for senior managers, and for port directors.

Pursuing a Master’s in Port and Terminal Management

AAPA has a Memorandum of Understanding with Lamar University, established to inject academic rigor into the PPM program. It has also created an opportunity for PPM candidates to earn credits toward a master’s degree.

Lamar University offers the only master’s degree in port and terminal management in the United States. It is a two-year, online degree.

Over the years, Hacegaba said, “the partnership with Lamar University has helped us to realign the PPM program to make it more flexible for candidates and more valuable for the port authorities they serve.”

Erik Stromberg is executive director of the Center for Port Management at Lamar University. He said the master’s degree is a niche program, developed from a practitioner’s perspective: “Ports and terminal professionals need specific acumen and that is what this degree seeks to convey. The program addresses the complexities and subtleties of a dynamic industry.” He noted that academic faculty are complemented by industry experts.

The master’s degree is valuable for seaport professionals looking for more knowledge across departments and disciplines. Good candidates for the degree typically have some industry knowledge, and, Stromberg said, often include up-and-coming young professionals in port and terminal management.

One benefit that both the PPM® and the master’s program share, according to Stromberg, is the camaraderie and bonding of candidates as they go through the programs: “It is wonderful to see and hear about the relationships that develop and endure.”

The cost of the master’s is approximately $14,000, and some scholarships are available.

Lamar University is able to grant up to nine credit hours, on a competency-based system, to PPM graduates. In a next step, there is potential for those with a master’s from Lamar University to gain credits toward the PPM certification.

The Path Forward

Programs like those offered by AAPA, IAMPE and Lamar University help build the foundation for future port leaders to understand all aspects of port management.

The recent supply chain crisis has spotlighted the need to understand the big picture. “Supply chain solutions require a partnership of ports, every type of carrier, a diversity of experts, and leaders with a comprehensive knowledge of how the pieces fit together – and how to connect them so they remain essential, resilient and united,” McLeod said.

That means that the need to invest in our future leaders is more important than ever. McLeod said, “AAPA’s theme this year, ‘Now We Build,’ is not just about new wharves, cranes or buildings. It is about employees and the future leadership of America’s ports.”