Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Interview: Docker 4.0 to be international and IT skilled

Genova – In the Port 4.0, that runs towards the automation of as many activities as possible, the work on the dock is not destined to become extinct, but rather to evolve. A path that however can not pass only through the transformation of processes, but rather from the training of workers.

George Vaggelas, professor at the University of the Aegean and a partner of P & S Advisory, a consulting firm for some big port terminals, such as COSCO and DP World, is convinced of this.

Which are, in short, the skills that the docker of the future must have?

“Technology is evolving in the port industry and creates challenges for the dockers. Automation of port processes with an eye on those taking place on the dock (i.e. loading and unloading) and the stacking areas, calls for additional skills for dockers. Knowledge of PC use along with the use of specialized software programs and the understanding of cloud services are among the skills that will be valuable in the future. This doesn’t mean that the work of a docker will be vanished. Technologies might reduce low-skilled jobs in ports but on the other hand new high-skilled jobs will be created such as system architects, IT engineers, Business Analysts etc. Concluding we are going from a single-skilled to a multi-skilled personnel in ports and in this transition the knowledge dealing with new technologies is an advantage.”

Speaking at the “Second life. Seafarers work and live better having alternatives of a future job ashore” conference few weeks ago here in Genova you told about the need, for European ports, to create a common education path for dockworkers. But as you know, currently there are many differences between the various port organizations, not just between nation and nation, but frequently between port and port in the same nation. So, how should be possible to create this new generation of dockers avoiding the opposition by the people that currently work on the wharves?

“Towards this direction we must first of all proceed with the development of relevant port jobs descriptions as a prerequisite for developing certification schemes. Common job descriptions and certification will create the need for training and educational programs that will have many common elements or even identical modules. We have to look the big picture. For example becoming a crane operator has some common skills irrespective of the port that the crane operator will work for or the type of the gantry crane he/she will operate. These common skills can lead to a training program that will provide a certification. The port will then be responsible if it is needed to provide some additional training to the crane operator according to the specific characteristics of the dock cranes it uses. See it as a driving license. You know how to drive but you have also to spent some time to learn the peculiarities of the car that your are going to drive (gearshift, driving lights etc). Also, with your driving license you can drive throughout EU. Regarding the existing dockers, they can either attend a short course just to take this certification or it can be considered as a certified personnel based on their experience.”

The same question is about the possibility that you mentioned in Genova, for a single dockworker, to shift from a country to another: don’t you think that barriers as language, different contracts, different skills and cultures are too high in the Europe in which we live today?

“Of course local peculiarities are evident around EU, but on the other hand EU is about free movement of people, services, goods and capital. There are barriers but for sure they can be overcome. This process is not new in the EU. Several EU citizens are leaving and working in an EU country different from the country of their nationality. For example in Greece the last 10 years due to the economics recession almost 500.000 people (the majority of them being young scientists) moved to other countries in EU and abroad. Their diplomas have been recognized by their host country and they managed to overcome the language barrier and the differences in the labour regime, the culture etc. The path is existing, we don’t have to invent it. We just need to provide the dockworkers with a certification that will be acceptable in any EU country.”
How much is important the wage factor to pull dockers’ productivity? Do you think that the internationalization of dock workers could create something like is happened for seafarers – so particularly for high skills, a common wage platform, independent from the worker nationality?

“Wage is always a motivation for any worker but its not the only one. It depends on the overall satisfaction that a docker perceive from his/her work, but nonetheless it’s an important motive. On the second part of your question I think it will take time to reach a common wage platform especially if we haven’t reach yet the common skills needed along with the certification. How are you going to define the skills for setting the wage platform if you haven’t first conclude on a job description and a minimum set of skills per working position.”

Which is, from your point of view, the better dockers’ organization pattern in Europe? A single dockers’ organization/company for all the port, maybe owned by terminal operators with a Port Authority share; or single completely public organization in the port; or a single group of dockworkers for a single terminal; or…?

“Unfortunately there is no answer to this question. As w
e say in port economics, each port is unique. A dockers organizational scheme that works fine in a port might not work at all in another. These schemes are usually related with the governance model that a port follows so there isn’t a single best solution on this issue.”

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