Professionals Wanted: How To Remedy The Imbalance Between Supply And Demand In The Port Sector

The maritime/port sector is growing steadily and is an important source of new jobs. However, port companies often find it difficult to cover vacancies and are forced to search for talent abroad, despite the high levels of youth unemployment locally. How can this imbalance between labour supply and demand be remedied? In the Catalan capital, the Port of Barcelona, Barcelona Activa and Fundació BCN Formació Professional are working together to find solutions.

Posted on 10.18.2018
Connecting the needs of ports with professional training can help solve the problems of occupation in this area. [Image by Port de Barcelona]

The lack of connection between companies' professional needs and training programmes in local educational centres can cause employment issues among young people, but is also detrimental to the competitiveness of companies, which have to use extra resources to train employees specifically to fit their needs. In the port arena, which requires a wide range of highly specialised professional profiles and where companies are in the midst of digitalisation and transformation 4.0, the imbalance between labour supply and demand can be even worse.

To deal with this situation, the Port of Barcelona and Barcelona Activa have compiled two studies that are the jumping-off point for an action plan to be rolled out over the coming years.

The first, compiled by Fundació BCN Formació Professional, is a detailed study analysing labour needs associated with vocational training in 4 specific areas: logistics and trade, cargo terminals, marinas and industrial, and land transport. This analysis helped generate a list of the most in-demand professions and all of the traits required of a worker in these subsectors.

"Doing an in-depth study of the professional profiles at the port is already a novelty in itself, especially because it has been done from the viewpoint of vocational training," states Ángel Tarriño, project manager at Fundació BCN Formació Professional. One of the report's strengths is that it is based on the needs and recommendations reported by the companies themselves (a sample of 106 of the nearly 600 companies that make up the Port Community), states Tarriño.

The second study, compiled byBarcelona Activa as part of its programme to detect and disseminate potential jobs and opportunities in strategic sectors, identifies 53 professional profiles in three large subsectors: maritime cargo and public transport, recreational boating, and fishing, and agriculture.

The studies have identified up to 53 professional profiles demanded in three major subsectors: the maritime transport of people and merchandise, nautical sports and recreational, and fishing and aquaculture.

The most demanded professional profiles, by subsectors in the port area. Source: Fundació BCN Formació Professional.

Transversal professionals

What conclusions can be drawn from these reports? "We've seen that each subsector of the port has its own specific needs. However, there are two transversal profiles required in all the sectors," explains the specialist. So, on the one hand we find jobs associated with mechanical maintenance (for ships, cranes, machinery, conveyor belts, etc.). And, on the other, administrative positions need to be filled with individuals suited to the port environment (adaptable with flexible schedules, with knowledge of tariffs, special taxes and customs procedures, etc.).

For the maintenance positions, individuals are also needed that are comfortable with industry 4.0. Meaning they have knowledge of all the technology used in a smart port (IoT, sensors, process automation, etc.). "Industry 4.0 is a revolution in every sense. Vocational training hopes to adapt to this revolution by reconsidering its contents in collaboration with companies," adds Tarriño.

This process of adaptation requires a firm commitment to FP Dual. FP Dual is a programme of degrees that combine training in educational centres and in companies. With this model, students spend 3 to 6 months working at companies, which have the investment capacity, machinery and instruments. This way, they come away with specialised knowledge and professional know-how. Plus, this system allows vocational training programmes to adapt to the fast pace at which industry 4.0 is changing.

In the case of maintenance profiles, there is also a need for people who know how to develop in Industry 4.0, who know all the technologies used in a SmartPort, such as IoT technology, sensors or process automation, among others.

The reports also highlighted more specific profiles, such as "carriers with knowledge of administrative and customs processes in a port that can correct any anomaly in documentation; fitters of parts for megayachts and recreational vessels; telecommunications engineers specialising in satellisation; experts in logistics and specialists in work at height," explains Tarriño.

Another essential requirement to make young people more employable in the Port Community is languages. "As it is an international arena, English is a must," says Ángel Tarriño. "For fitter positions, there are companies that do an English test before anything else. They are less concerned about candidates lacking mechanical expertise than them not speaking English. And if they have another language, even better," the expert advises.

A new design for training

The results of these studies not only prioritise professional needs in a sector immersed in a technological transformation. They have also raised awareness of other training options, many not commonly known, available in the maritime and port sector.

If companies have trouble finding channels and references for hiring, this study has opened the doors to resolving these issues. Promoting FP Dual programmes at companies in the Port of Barcelona seems to be an excellent solution to the demand for increasingly specialised labour with ever-changing dynamics that require candidates who are highly adaptable.

For now, a series of actions have been established to move in this direction. From creating a work group to adapt training contents to needs in the Port of Barcelona, to innovation training projects like Forma’t al Port offered by Escola Europea – Intermodal Transport.

For its part, Barcelona Activa is promoting professional training through initiatives including one with the Institut de Nàutica de Barcelona, adapting part of a degree programme to create a vocational training course for unemployed participants.