Scope and responsibility are set to grow

How is HHLA adapting its training and education strategy to reflect the rapid change in port-related job profiles? Carola Aldag, Head of HR Development, is drawing on new approaches in terms of qualifications – and forward-looking analyses of future needs. She believes that job profiles will be less fixed and less clearly delineated in future.

Ms Aldag, is it possible to say that everything is in flux in terms of port-related job profiles?
Yes, that’s probably fair to say. HHLA has been training staff since at least the 1970s at its own technical college, initially training maritime goods inspectors and later specialists in port logistics. Today, we are Germany’s biggest provider of training for specialists in port logistics. But this profession is also changing constantly, which means that the training provided is starting to have less and less in common with real-life port handling conditions. 

Training content always reflects the developments in the professional world but with a slight delay. Not all of the tasks that specialists in port logistics performed ten years ago will still be around in the future because processes and tasks are subject to huge changes – not least as a result of the use of technology. We have to take a closer look at what the future will require of our workforce and what training will be needed in order to fulfil these requirements.

So, is it true to say that digitalisation sets the pace in terms of the development of port-related job profiles?
The use of digital technologies not only affects the types of jobs carried out in the port but almost all fields of work. We always need to ask ourselves: where does a digital process make more sense than what is already in place? Digitalisation is not an end in itself but is there to help make things better – more productive, but also more user-friendly and customer-friendly, and to encourage those involved in the process to work together. 

Digitalisation makes it possible to collaborate more intensively and to work much more transparently. It is possible to maintain a clear overview of entire processes, including upstream and downstream tasks. It’s not about each person making improvements to his or her department but improving things as a whole – the overall result. Of course, digitalisation itself also requires change.

What will happen to straddle carrier operators, for example, when there are only self-driving container transporters at the terminals?
It is absolutely clear that an automated terminal will not have the same staff structure as the terminals do today. It is possible to train existing employees to assume the new roles resulting from the automation process. But we have to be honest: it probably won’t be the same staff members who simply choose to do something different in future. 

It will be our task to create an overall picture of the jobs in the port. This will include taking a closer look at other solutions, such as working-time systems, or checking whether employees who have already enjoyed a lengthy career may want to retire early. There are no easy ways of dealing with these changes and many different perspectives will have to be considered. We can only succeed here with the input of all those involved. 

You mentioned continuing professional development: is HHLA well-placed to offer this?
I assumed responsibility for HR development at HHLA in May 2020, partly with the aim of integrating it more fully into our overall corporate strategy. This also means looking at general requirements in terms of skills, such as the ability to solve complex problems or handle transformation and digitalisation. Like other companies, we too have a long path ahead of us in this respect. But we are working on developing these formats and the relevant content at the moment. 

Will increasing digitalisation in the port automatically mean taking more responsibility and enjoying more scope for decision-making?
In many roles, the complexity of the tasks involved has become much more pronounced, which has also increased the scope for decision-making. It’s no longer possible to coordinate every single detail with a supervisor when action is required. The number of people affected by decisions is also often significant. One such field of activity is terminal development. The things that are decided and implemented by this department have an impact far beyond the terminal itself and also affect our cooperation with external partners and customers. So there are far more effects on colleagues in other areas. For this reason, we need to take a comprehensive approach and act responsibly – even if we are only dealing with a minor change to some software.

What are the advantages of a dual study course, for which HHLA acts as a partner for the practical vocational element?
Firstly, it is a highly appealing model for us in terms of establishing our brand as an employer. Most school-leavers today wouldn’t consider a standard apprenticeship with us – they either want to study or complete a dual study course. So the dual study course is a great fit – a mix of higher education accompanied by a highly practical apprenticeship. Stints abroad are also included with some courses. When they are with us in the company, participants experience what it is like to be integrated into a department with actual projects. They are a great help with project work. Anyone who has completed this course will be well qualified to start working for us. This is what makes the course so appealing for both us and the students. As a result, we now offer dual study courses for other job profiles, such as digital marketing. 

Hamburg’s Kühne Logistics University (KLU) has been offering the corporate MBA programme “Leadership and Supply Chain Management” developed especially for HHLA since April 2020. What do you as an employer, and the graduates, get out of this?
This corporate MBA course represents the very pinnacle of strategic human resources development. In the course, the students acquire the expertise associated with a private university but tailored to the concerns and requirements of HHLA. This is supplemented by our own input and accompanied by a mentoring programme at the senior executive level. All of this is conducted in English, reflecting the international nature of our business. We select the participants, including from our international companies, based on their potential as future senior executives who are able to take responsibility. They all bring with them an excellent education and the crowning achievement is the MBA focusing on “Leadership and Supply Chain Management”. For us at HHLA, this is a way to bring a more international dimension to management and to build up more intercultural competence.

A look ahead at 2050: will there still be any manual labour in the port then?
I think that, even in 2050, we will still be a long way off having machines that are able to repair themselves. The technical support for highly complex handling equipment, such as container gantry cranes or AGVs, will still require manual work. But the range of skills will be much broader in all areas. Knowing how to use a spanner will no longer be sufficient. People will also have to know how systems feed into one another and how to get along with other people who have completely different skill sets. Job profiles will be much less rigidly defined than they are now. Perhaps we will even move away from defined professions completely. There will be even more blended profiles that cover a whole range of requirements. Despite this, I hope that I am never faced with the quandary of having to repair a container gantry crane – this is where the distinction from my job is still very important.