Gain, train and retain

Kerry Thompson, Head of ABP Academy, discusses why the various ABP initiatives to upskill existing employees and attract new talent are important in the ever changing technologically-advanced conditions of international trade

Innovations in technology and rapidly-changing international trade dynamics will continue to demand agility and flexibility from the maritime industry. But in a world of accelerating improvements and ongoing change, one thing remains constant: that maritime organisations need the most talented and most skilled people available.

ABP is the UK’s largest port operator, with 21 ports across the UK handling around GPB150 billion worth of trade every year. In order to fulfil our mission to keep Britain trading, ABP is committed to investing in people to ensure they have the necessary skills to thrive in the modern maritime sector. That’s why gaining, training and retaining the very best employees are key commitments for the organisation.

Welcome the new generation

The range of roles across the sector is diverse. One size does not fit all in terms of background, with vocational ability and experience every bit as important to the industry as academic qualifications. ABP particularly wants to encourage young people to take up engineering and manufacturing disciplines. In addition, we are working with local schools to introduce maritime as a rewarding career option, whilst also helping to educate young people. During open days, ABP has begun to offer local school students the opportunity to experience a ‘day in the working life’ within maritime. As well as giving young people a valuable insight into work experience and responsibility, these experience days also help develop their understanding of, and enthusiasm for, a range of topics from engineering to environmental management.

These initiatives also fit into a wider, national effort by the UK Department for Education. ABP welcomed the government’s announcement that from 2020 young people will be able to take T-Levels, which are technical qualifications equivalent to A-Levels, and in August last year was pleased to note that entries into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects continue to rise – now up 24% since 2010. Even more encouraging is that the number of girls enrolling in STEM A-Levels also continues to increase and has risen almost 27% since 2010.

ABP has maintained a successful apprenticeship programme which is yielding real results. As chair of the ‘Trailblazer Groups’ body, set up by the Institute for Apprenticeships, we have developed three new apprenticeship standards covering key roles: port marine operations officer, marine pilot and port operative, to better focus the development of our apprentices.
Currently, there are 67 apprentices going through programmes with the company, blending academic college work with real-world experience on the job. The roles they are training for, cover the full range of important disciplines within ABP, from electricians and fitters, to marine pilots and business administrators.

Every year, more people pass through the programme into full employment, armed with all the skills and experience they will need to enjoy a successful and enriching career. In addition, some existing employees are undergoing upskilling apprenticeships, which allow them to improve their existing skillsets and gain additional qualifications.

As part of the national apprenticeship week in March, we organised work shadowing across our network, to allow existing apprentices to engage with and observe other colleagues in ABP and to learn about different aspects of the company.

One example of this work shadowing is Olly Blay, an apprentice electrical fitter normally based at the Port of Southampton, who shadowed Mike McCartain, director of marine and compliance in March. As part of the Southampton maintenance team, Olly’s day to day job would normally involve work on mobile cranes and air bridges. Being part of the work shadowing programme exposes apprentices to different jobs available at ABP so that they can gain a better of how different teams work.

Digital helper

Technology has also afforded ABP new tools to help train the next generation of talent. In the last 12 months we have invested in state-of-the-art pilot training simulators for employees on the Humber and launched interactive video games to help train vehicle operators in safety. We are now exploring what Virtual Reality can offer to help train employees more quickly and effectively.

Moreover, ABP is committed to expanding the pool of talent, maximising the number of potential candidates for industry to employ – that means pushing for greater diversity in the workforce, to harness the undoubted talents that are available. As part of this commitment, ABP recently launched the “Women in Maritime Charter” in partnership with the Department for Transport and industry partners, which set goals for achieving gender parity within the maritime sector.

But there is always more to do. ABP continues to improve its approach to recruitment, training and development, working with local communities, schools and universities to attract and keep the very best.

The future of the maritime industry is dynamic and rapidly-evolving. To be successful, it will rely on an ever-unchanging feature of its business: great people.