The expansion of the IHATEC funding pots to cover areas related to training and further education was the catalyst: “This opened the door for us to conceptually develop both the port and ourselves in this direction and to launch the ‘Portskill 4.0’ project,” explained Thomas Lührs, project manager and employee of the consortium leader maritimes competenzcentrum (ma-co). Further partners are HHLA, BLG Logistics Group and Patient Zero Games as well as Verdi and The Federation of German Seaport Operators (ZDS) as associate partners.
The project, which has been running since December last year and will continue until November 2025, addresses issues relating to the future of the port industry. What opportunities do digitalisation and automation offer, and what influence do these developments have on people? “We are looking at the effects of technology on employees,” stated Lührs.
“PortSkill 4.0” is primarily aimed at workers carrying out operational activities such as van carrier drivers, gantry crane operators and lashers. Employees with administrative duties, such as ship planners and workers who manage the organisation and control of a terminal, are also addressed. The third group includes maintenance and service technicians.
Two aspects, in particular, are being evaluated. On the one hand, how automation and digitalisation are changing the working world. On the other, what effects this is having on the roughly 30 job profiles that are included in this project, notably, whether these roles will exist in another form in the future, or exist at all. Building on this, the extent to which the skills required of employees – such as knowledge and soft skills – is changing will be researched: from medium-term adjustments to new competency profiles. “To this end, we are also drawing on Work 4.0 studies from other sectors,” explained Lührs.
Digital test and training centre
Two objectives have been developed from these enquiries: firstly, to establish a digital test and training centre and, secondly, to investigate the socio-economic impacts. “For the digital test and training centre, we will rely on digital learning worlds using computer simulations, video projection screens, and AR and VR glasses. Training scenarios will be developed for various job profiles and roles,” summarised the project manager.
In terms of content, this could include specialist and digital/technical skills as well as soft skills, for example, teamwork and problem-solving skills. One particular advantage of networked digital training is that learning content can be well contextualised with overarching processes. “In the future, more and more knowledge will be required to consider the big picture, for example, how an action affects the entire supply chain,” emphasised Lührs.
Promoting flexibility and willingness to learn is also important because the world will change much more rapidly in the future. “Lifelong learning will continue to grow in importance,” Lührs predicted. “That’s why informal learning and learning methodology will gain in importance”. The training centre will develop web-based applications and smartphone apps to enable employees to continue with everyday training.
One particular challenge, however, is making the training and further education as engaging and interesting as possible to keep employees on the ball for five to ten minutes a day longer, even over relatively long periods of time. In addition, many employers do not yet see the benefits of allowing their employees to continue their education during working hours and to work through training units independently.