Improved port performance through training:
The contribution of the International Labour Organization
Technical Specialist (Ports and Transport)
Social Dialogue, Labour Law, Labour Administration and
Sectoral Activities Department
International Labour Office
nd22 International Port Conference
- “Human Resources and Sea Ports Performance” -
12 – 14 March 2006, Alexandria, Egypt.
For the last few decades, the focus of the port sector has been mainly on technological advances that make productivity less dependent on human effort, knowledge and skills. But recent years have witnessed a growing acknowledgement by the port industry that appropriate attention must also turn to performance improvement through people. Ports should be seen as “socio-technical” systems because, in practice,
operations in port terminals are carried out by a partnership between human beings and technology. This partnership, however, can only be successful if appropriate emphasis is given to Human Resource Management (HRM) and particularly the training component of HRM, an often over-looked area that can have a significant impact on port performance. This paper provides an outline of some basic concepts of the theory of training and education as related to the port industry and presents the port-related ILO Conventions, Recommendations, Codes of Practice, Guidelines and Manuals as well as training materials developed by the International Labour Organization (ILO), which aim in the improvement of cargo handling performance, the working conditions and practices and safety, status and welfare of women and men working in ports.
The task of finding port personnel who either possess or have the potential to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will enable a port business to carry out the tasks necessary for the achievement of its aims and objectives is obviously of fundamental importance. Although the selection of port personnel is usually designed to recruit the most competent individuals, they are unlikely to remain competent for the whole of their career. As changes take place in technology, infrastructure, procedures, competition, interfaces with other modes of transport, knowledge and innovations, so too will the demands placed upon specific jobs in the port industry. Such changes may also lead to the creation of jobs and disciplines, which are new to the traditional port industry. This is where training comes in. However, the whole training process for performance improvement from start to finish is complex and to be effectively accomplished it requires an understanding of the nature and background theory of the process. It would therefore be useful to outline some basic concepts of the theory of training and education as related to the port industry, which have been taken into account by the ILO when developing its port-related training programmes.
The following three chapters provide basic information in this respect and examples on how such basic concepts of the theory of training have been incorporated in the main port-related training programme offered by the ILO; namely, the Portworker Development Programme (PDP). Subsequent chapters provide an outline of all port-related training opportunities currently offered by the ILO.
3. GETTING THE RIGHT PEOPLE AND GETTING THE PEOPLE
Since the underlying premise of this conference is the improvement of port performance through people it is only fitting that the term “port performance” is firstly defined.
At organizational level Port Performance comprises the following three basic outputs:
Effectiveness + Efficiency + Port personnel satisfaction
Obtaining, employing and retaining suitable port personnel that would contribute to the effectiveness (accomplishment of explicit or implicit tasks) and the efficiency (best possible utilization of resources) of the port and at the same time portworkers to be satisfied with their work and their lives is costly and requires considerable effort. Therefore ports have a very strong vested interested in ensuring that these human resources are utilized as effectively as possible. There is convincing evidence that many ports are falling far short in making effective use of all the people they employ. To do this a port organization has to recognize that people are its most valuable asset, that they are not simply another factor of production for the achievement of short-term objectives. It should also be recognised that port personnel can become a reservoir of knowledge and skills, which must be nurtured and developed for the survival and future growth of the port business in the constantly changing and increasingly complex port industry environment. Experience from some port organizations (a good example is that of PSA – Port of Singapore Authority) suggests
that investments in people have resulted in substantial gains towards the achievement of the port’s strategic objectives.
There is no need to overemphasize the importance of “Getting the right people and
getting the people right” but defining these twin concepts is a step further towards
achieving increased port performance through people.
“Getting the right people” means planned recruitment processes, which provide the
port business with the best available talent, consistent with the needs of the port business and its capacity to make full use of those recruited.
“Getting the people right” implies consistent policies and practices in training,
retraining, educating and developing port staff and involving them as “partners” in the port business rather than as functionaries whose roles are restricted to obeying instructions.
It is obvious that “Getting the people right” implies two categories of human resource policies and practices. The first category is related to learning processes and the second to port personnel motivation. Despite the fact that port personnel motivation is highly important for improved port performance, it is beyond the scope of this paper and it will therefore not be covered. However, it is important to point out that the
provision of opportunities for appropriate training, education and development is one of the proven strategies for port workforce motivation.
More often than not the terms “Training” and “Education” are used as synonyms and there is also some confusion as to what actually the term “Personal Development”
implies. For this reason the first appropriate step in understanding the basic training theory upon which port workforce training should be best practiced is to highlight the definitions of these terms. The common denominator of these three terms is learning. Consequently, the understanding of the learning process is also a fundamental prerequisite for those responsible in “getting people right” in port organizations.
4. DEFINING TRAINING, EDUCATION, AND PERSONAL
“Training”, “Education” and “Personal Development” are the basic activity areas of what is known as “Human Resource Development” (HRD). The term HRD was
first used by Professor Leonard Nedler of George Washington University. He introduced the term at the Conference of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) held in Miami some 40 years ago. Professor Nedler defined HRD as “the provision of organised learning experiences in a specified period of
time, for the possibility of improving performance or general growth of individuals”.
Let me elaborate on the key ideas in Nedler’s definition of HRD, which are learning
HRD contributes to the productivity effort through learning. However, learning by
itself will not guarantee increased performance. We can be certain that where
learning is needed and not provided, increased performance will not be achieved.
For example, if a new piece of port equipment is purchased and operators are not
provided with the necessary learning experiences to operate the new port
equipment efficiently, it is unlikely that the new equipment will result in increased
It is important to note the significance of the word “possibility” as used in the
definition of HRD. HRD practitioners avoid promising that learning alone will
improve performance. All HRD can do is to provide learning, which could result
in performance change.
Having defined HRD, which encompasses “Training”, “Education” and “Personal Development” the definitions of these three terms can follow. There is a plethora of definitions, which have been used to describe “Training”, “Education” and “Personal Development”, however not all clearly differentiate between these three terms. While all three activities (training, education, personal development) aim in effective performance through the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes, training is learning related to the present job of the learner, education is learning related to a future job of the learner and personal development is not job-related and relies more upon the individual’s initiative. The importance of using a simple, a clear and a comprehensive definition as a basis for practice is that it focuses attention on the aim of each one of these three HRD activities. On the basis of the above explanatory remarks the following are proposed as examples of appropriate definitions:
Training is a learning process in which learning opportunities and experiences are designed and implemented, which aim in developing the knowledge, skills and attitudes related to the present job of the learner.
Training is necessary to achieve improvements in work performance, particularly when ports invest in new equipment, introduce new work procedures or redesign the workplace. Training takes place at a specific time and place, is usually vocationally relevant and limited to specific aims and objectives.
There are many examples of this particular activity area of HRD either at port, enterprise, national or international level. Port training institutes all over the world offer on a routine or tailor made basis specific job-related training both at management (e.g. port operations management, port equipment planning, etc.) or at operational or technical level (e.g. operation of quay cranes, equipment maintenance, staffing/unstaffing of containers etc.).
Education is a learning process that prepares people for a future job that may arise.
It is important to recognise that immediate increased performance cannot be expected when education is used as a HRD intervention. Education takes place over a substantial but finite period of time, usually leads to a qualification and may result in leading you to a new career direction. However, education has been correctly recognised by many stakeholders in the port industry as an important investment for the near or long-term future and it forms an appreciable component of the port industry HRD system at national or international level, while in many cases education of port personnel is supported at port level on a systematic basis. As a an example of the provision of specialised education at international level is the case of the “World Maritime University” that has been established in 1983 by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in Sweden and which can offer courses that may lead a Master’s Degree in a number of port related subjects. At port organization level one good example is the case of PSA that provides practical support for broader educational upgrading that enhances the effectiveness of its high-potential executives. PSA offers to outstanding performers sponsorships for graduate and post-graduate studies, both locally and overseas. Also at PSA, support employees, whether in administration, operations or technical areas, are sent for classes for basic or secondary education or Information Technology (IT) programmes.
Personal Development (or self-development), which is initiated by the individual, is a
lifelong learning process of nurturing, shaping and improving an individual’s skills,
knowledge and interests to ensure their maximum effectiveness and adaptability and to minimise the obsolescence of their knowledge and skills and their chances of redundancy.
Personal development is not job-related. Although there may be some indirect benefits, personal development is not directly related to productivity. Hence it would be prudent to exclude personal development as a means of achieving productivity improvement. Personal development does not necessarily imply upward movement; rather, it is about enabling individuals to improve and use their full potential at each career stage. However, any support provided by port management to individual port employees for self-development is likely to contribute to employee satisfaction and generate more motivation. PSA is successfully practicing this policy for demonstrated
support of port management to self-development. This policy is implemented under a special programme called “STAR” (Structured Training for Advancement and Results)
within a broader HRD scheme at PSA under the title “opportunities for growing with PSA”.
5. THE LEARNING PROCESS
Since training (as well as education) is essentially a learning process, all those involved in port training need to have an understanding of learning and what needs to be taken into consideration in the design and provision of training in the port sector. The main questions to be discussed are what learning is and how people learn. There is a general consensus about the first question but much more debate about the second.
“Learning” may be defined as a permanent change of behaviour, which occurs as a result of the influence of external, environmental stimuli on the inherent, genetic disposition of the individual.
For the purpose of training a similar but more specific and simple definition of “Learning” is frequently used, which is as follows:
“Learning” is a permanent change in behaviour that comes about as a result of a planned learning experience. (In simple terms training could be defined as the design and implementation of effective learning experiences).
In the context of training it is useful to consider learning and behaviour change in three types of behaviour, cognitive (knowledge), psychomotor (skills) and affective (attitudes) needed for effective performance.
How people learn has been the subject of continuing discussion and some controversy for many decades. Various theories have been fashionable at different times. Nevertheless, from the wealth of practical experience acquired over many years, it is possible to distil some basic