Erasmus’ Maurice Jansen sees value in young professional networks taking the stage in ports around the world
Image is everything. Up until now, the public’s image of a port was based on fossil energy, mass production, heavy traffic and consequential pollution and waste. Conversely, port citizens have got used to the image of port as a gargantuan machine with supersized ships, cranes, container stacks, conveyor belts and other heavy equipment. A place where businesses continually seek higher efficiencies and economies of scale. In this image people have become insignificant creatures, with increasingly less human intervention in port operations.
At the same time, ports like to consider themselves as an ecosystem, where ecology and economy can live in harmony and where the port provides work and a healthy life for port workers and neighbouring port citizens. Out on the streets, both younger and older generations are protesting, whether it be for a stronger contribution to reduce the impact of climate change or for a better division of economic wealth coming from automation of jobs. To live up to the promise of a healthy and hospitable place to live and work, ports will have to bring these two opposing images together. How? Young professional networks can play a vital role.
Home for young talent
In port ecosystems and maritime clusters across the world young professional networks are stepping up to the plate. While maritime companies were cutting back on their internal human resources development costs during the economic crisis, YoungShip was founded in Norway and offered a low-cost industry-wide alternative for young talent who wanted to meet up and get inspired by the stories of others.
Its success was quickly recognised by industry associations, such as the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association. In 2011 YoungShip International branched out to other port cities in the world such as Rotterdam, Hamburg, Gothenburg, Houston, Helsinki, Dubai, Antwerp, Singapore and Liverpool, and to countries including Greece, Denmark, Italy, Turkey, Cyprus, France, Spain, Panama, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Portugal and Nigeria.
“Right from the start we wanted to be purpose driven. Therefore, we made a handbook in which we included our core values: innovation and entrepreneurship, sustainability, transparency, diversity and equality,” says Birgit Liodden, founder of YoungShip International. “For the maritime industry, the value of social networks such as YoungShip is that we are engaging with young people and tell a different story. In our interaction with them, we found out the younger generation perceived the maritime industry as a kind of ‘Scrooge’, while we wanted to present the industry as Superman.”
In Port of Rotterdam the tradition of a membership association goes back 80 years and it has had a department for young port professionals since 2009. With over 500 members below the age of 35, it offers a stepping stone for graduates into an accessible network of people who share the same values and interests. In addition, the department organises all kinds of events: masterclasses, talk shows, company excursions, onboarding programmes, and the annual dance party during the World Port Days.
These young professional networks contribute to the shared values of the port ecosystem. For a port city to be an inclusive and attractive place to live and work, these social networks connect a port’s human capital, cultural capital and social capital with the port’s economic capital. Ports thrive by their ability to attract, retain and grow the best and brightest talent.
These young networks mobilise teams of people who are willing to go the extra mile in organising a variety of activities on a voluntary basis. Secondly, these networks make a tremendous effort to connect senior and junior professionals. Stories of the past are carried on to the next generation and tech savvy young people have a platform to broadcast their latest ideas to the entire port community. In fact, these social networks are building bridges between generations. These crossovers – both horizontally between members as well as vertically between generations, reflect the social capital of the port ecosystem.
In this 21st century Renaissance, the human factor becomes paramount, followed by technology. This new generation of port workers is already pushing for change within their social networks and will do so even more strongly, more professionally and more persistently. They are the free spirits and creative minds who want to build their future on the shoulders of previous port citizens. For corporations to thrive in this ecosystem they have to co-exist with this human-centred port ecosystem, not conflict with it.
The accumulated capital – human, culture, social and economic - within the port ecosystem reflects an image of interconnectedness and interdependency. It’s not free for businesses to use this force of change. Fundamentally people of all ages must believe in the ‘do good’ mission to join in company boardrooms’ struggle for survival. The ‘what’s in it for me’ ideology has to be changed into ‘what’s in it for us’. In the long run, ecosystems live, not machines.
Maurice Jansen, MSc is a senior researcher and business developer at Erasmus UPT, specialising in strategic management and environment.