You think training is expensive? Try ignorance!

Improve productivity by 25% with training, certification

“The 20th Century was the age of machine; the 21st Century is the age of people” – Kanter, cited in Kermally, 2006.

2015 February: The traditional approach to Caribbean productivity has been to focus primarily on upgrading equipment. Whereas this focus is in itself necessary, it is perhaps far more important to adopt a strategy which begins with a holistic integration of equipment, technology and human beings.

Due to advancement in technology and, in particular, information technology, Caribbean ports are now under pressure to put more emphasis on ‘soft skills’ and less on ‘brute force’ for training of stevedores and clerks. Studies in Europe and the USA have shown that training and development of the human component can improve productivity by as much as 25%.

In the Caribbean, handling charges, including insurance on transport are generally 30% higher than the world average. In addition, container-handling tariffs are either opaque or hidden and inevitably  trigger heavy cross-subsidisation. This leads not only to disconnection between the actual costs incurred in handling the containers and tariff levels charged but also and perhaps more significantly, it promotes inefficiency and excessive tariff levels. This therefore suggests that improving training and development of port workers and clerks in the Caribbean must always be a top priority in the short and the long term.

“Globalisation, empowerment, cross functional teams, downsizing, learning organization and knowledge workers are changing the way of life of managers and the way they manage people.” – Kermally, 2006.

The top five global port operators, now controlling over 80% of the world port throughput, have made the matter of certification and standardisation of port workers a priority. The Caribbean peoples, in order to compete and remain relevant, have no choice but to take this approach to development.

Barbados and Jamaica were the first two countries in the Caribbean to pioneer training and professional development of stevedores and port workers as a strategy for improving marine terminal productivity. What has been learnt from their experiences is that it is imperative that stevedores are considered a vital aspect of the asset base of the shipping industry and not be treated as a major expense item.

In the Caribbean, training has been treated on a ad hoc basis. Rather than adopting training as a solution strategy for low productivity or to increase production from investment already made, training is placed on the wrong side of the balance sheet. In other words, it is treated as increased costs as opposed to a direct investment, which adds value.

Human capital is the Caribbean’s single largest asset. If empowered through training, it can be an organization’s competitive advantage. In the case of Barbados Port Inc., it was noted that after an extensive training exercise with the stevedores; health and safety awareness increased and the confidence of stevedores increased significantly while, at the same time, there was a notable decline in accidents and incidents.

Planned upgrade in physical assets is critical and should keep pace with technology and the capacity of the workforce. However, training is too often viewed as purely a monitoring cost and a drain on the finances. The benefits are often ignored, only because they can be difficult to identify and quantify in financial terms. A broader, more reflective assessment of training often leads to identification of non-monetary benefits, many of which have positive influences on productivity.

Training is inextricably linked with life beyond the work place. In evaluating and balancing the costs and benefits of training, the social and individual factors must also be considered. Like any good investment, training offers returns. And the true measure of value derived is often evident in what is saved and also what is gained. []

by Fritz Pinnock, PhD.