Covid 19 has affected us all, from being prevented from going to the pub to losing livelihoods and loved ones. That a viral outbreak could cause such havoc to society is both terrible and, unfortunately, predictable when put into context against modern living conditions. We are social creatures, and many of the operations in a port environment are conducted face to face or in groups. This has put a strain on the ability of the sector to conduct business as normal, let alone upgrade their staff skills to meet the challenges that a post-Brexit Britain will present. However, many ports have risen to the task and have managed to maintain a standard of operations which, while not entirely ideal, continue working in safe conditions. PSS has created a gazetteer outlining where ports can revise and refine their Covid measures, but today we asked Forth Ports to tell us their approach to Learning & Development since March 2020.
It is fair to say that following Government advice on keeping employees safe within the workplace, specifically within a training and development context, has resulted in an increased workload. However, Forth Ports has not furloughed a single employee, and has even gone so far as to expand their expertise to ensure flexibility and skill coverage. A review was undertaken of both Forth training facilities in Tilbury and Scotland to assess feasible numbers for the continuation of classroom learning. Social distancing, one of the key tools used in defeating the virus, was paramount and so the volume of people using computer suites had to be kept at a safe level. Other facilities also had to be considered such as canteens, where services have been pared back to providing water only. Participants instead were requested to bring their own lunch to minimise physical contact. Each workstation was logged and placed on a seventy-two-hour rotation and following each session the computer was cleaned down with bacterial and viral wipes.
Early on, the business took the decision to restrict training to business critical technical and compliance skills. While disappointing to some, this kept the business agile enough to cover missing man-hours due to illness. These courses were then broken down and rescheduled to support three participants and an instructor to a suite, rising to four participants based on current government guidelines. All non-critical courses were rescheduled to later in the year under the assumption that the industry would be in a better place by September. Unfortunately, this never happened, and these courses have been postponed. As a result, Forth had to reinvent much of their training to make it more accessible remotely to limit the need for classroom attendance and were able to deliver a wider training agenda. It was through this drive towards e-learning that they discovered that some of their staff needed to improve their IT literacy skills, which is subsequently being incorporated into Forth Ports planning for 2021.
Certain programmes however require a more hands on approach. Due to the nature of the business, there is a requirement for a high volume of First Aiders. HSE has provided guidelines for how to deliver First Aider recertification courses, as well as announcing an extension on First Aid recertification. However, circumstances have forced Forth Ports to become creative in maintaining the high standard of first aid coverage required by law. For example, in Scotland, Forth Ports had to reconfigure an existing facility to make it more user friendly and to ensure social distancing for six participants, together with mats and instructor. This ensured adherence to the law while remaining vigilant to the current dangers of the pandemic. A similar awareness has had to be adopted when it comes to plant training. Initially, simulators were used, moving onto an instructor operated vehicle besides the trainee when deemed advanced enough. Where there is a necessity for cab access and the requisite two metre distance can no longer be maintained, Forth Ports researched professional guidelines for plant and business critical training as well as Government advice regarding services necessitating close contact. On advising PSS of their planned approach, Forth Ports adopted the following:
- · One trainee in the cab at a time.
- · Face masks and gloves to be worn in the cab at all times.
- · Instructors to wear masks, gloves, and a visor at all times.
- · Maximum training group of three.
- · All equipment to be wiped down with anti-viral wipes between usage.
It may sound over cautious, but this method reduces the chances of infection by a significant margin thereby minimising the chances of days off due to infection or worse.
In addition to maintaining training for existing employees, Forth Ports has also continued their apprenticeship program. Despite the obvious difficulties, Forth Ports hired an apprentice engineer and assigned port operations to seven new trainees. The engineer selection process in particular had to be redesigned to make it remote yet compliant with the assessment centre units. Looking to the future, trainee programmes such as Career Ready continue to receive support, with school pupils being offered the chance to receive mentoring and work placements remotely. The hope is that when the current situation has passed, businesses that invested in a robust and multi-skilled workforce will rebound quicker. By offering increased training avenues to your employees, you not only expand their capabilities and horizons, but future-proof your own.