Shipping industry hit by skills shortage

SKILLS shortages are already in evidence in the shipping industry at Felixstowe, Ipswich and Harwich, and the situation is set to get worse as the ports expand.

SKILLS shortages are already in evidence in the shipping industry at Felixstowe, Ipswich and Harwich, and the situation is set to get worse as the ports expand.

More shipping import and export clerks, and lorry drivers, will be among those needed in the next five years as more cargo is handled and new European restrictions on working hours begin to bite.

There is currently a 21 per cent shortfall in the number of shipping clerks needed by local companies and it is feared this could worsen to 52pc by 2008.

Trying to improve training and attract people into what the experts describe as "an exciting industry" has become an urgent need and is the major challenge facing Richard Morton.

He has been appointed project manager for a new Felixstowe-based venture called TEAM (Training, Education, Accreditation and Motivation) Haven, set up by the Haven Gateway Partnership, which promotes the ports and their areas.

His brief is to tackle skills, training issues and the need to promote the huge variety of careers options available in the ports, shipping and logistics sector.

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He will link employers' training needs with the relevant courses provided by the colleges and training organisations.

"TEAM Haven is about getting best use out of what the training organisations are already offering, to meet the industry needs," said Mr Morton, 31.

"It is about using existing funding in a more focused way and identifying areas of weakness, then developing the capacity for new training provision where necessary."

He spent five years with logistics operator RH Group, three years managing the family firm, and two years as head of workforce development for the Learning and Skills Council Essex, during which he became involved with the Haven Gateway's education and training group.

The Haven ports are not alone in facing problems of an ageing workforce and recruitment and skills shortages – the maritime sector across the UK is suffering.

While larger companies have their own training schemes, smaller ones often face the biggest problems with little time to spare for training, or finding out about training options, and don't have huge amounts to spend.

Mr Morton is not promising a "quick fix" to the problems.

"Ultimately, we expect a situation where employers will be able to call with their specific training problems, and we will find a solution. For example, not everyone realises the financial help that can be available for training," he said.

TEAM Haven will also work to attract people in, aiming to ensure that individuals looking to enter the industry either from other industries or schools have the right basic knowledge and understanding of the sector.

An early target is to create a prospectus detailing all the relevant courses available and employers will be asked to say what they really need, and help promote the industry as a career option.

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