ESF Project

Industry-focused training increases skills of local people and provides assurances for business relocating to the area.

Main feature

Funded by Skills Funding Agency and ESF, Port Training Services has delivered NVQ Level 2 in Port and Plant Operations to employees to raise skills and competences to address future skills needs and benefit the North East of England.

Port Training Services (PTS) is an industrial training organisation providing high quality training for the Port, Marine, Warehousing, Logistics and Heavy Industrial sectors. As the training division of the Blyth Harbour Commission (Port of Blyth), they have many years of experience operating in a demanding industry which requires the highest standards of training. This expertise is available on a commercial basis from their onsite training centre, which offers trainees the opportunity to gain tuition in a real-time working environment.

Historically, ports tended to be highly specialised in specific cargos and units of existing training provision were not flexible enough for specialist ports. PTS identified a lack of training and skills in the port industry, where each port had its own training regime tailored specifically to their own cargo, but with no nationally recognised qualification.

The increase of offshore wind turbines and relocation of organisations to the North East of England are set to increase demand for highly skilled and competent workers, further impacting on challenges presented by an aging workforce. Ports are important to the economy of the North East of England and making nationally recognised qualifications in port operations represented an important way to invest ESF to increase skills and competences, specifically regarding health and safety, and provide assurances to those companies seeking to move to the area who look to the ports to transport their goods.

It was recognised that outside trainers could not deliver training to meet future demand for skilled port workers, as they did not have the industry knowledge, so the Port of Blyth set up PTS, in 2008, initially working with their own workforce, and now delivers training to other ports in the local area – such as Tyne and Sunderland.

The need for a tailored vocational route led to a collaboration between the examination board EAL and Port Skills and Safety, the standards setting body, to develop level 2 and level 3 NVQs in Port Operations. EAL’s NVQs in Port Operations include underpinning knowledge requirements – absent from previous qualifications – and recognise key attributes of a well-performing workforce such as the ability to work effectively with others. Colin Bassam, Training Manager at PTS, says: ‘The NVQ programme is the ideal tool to give companies confidence in the quality of the workmanship among their labour. It provides a guarantee of at least three months’ practical application of skills to reinforce the training they have received. Businesses like ours – where work varies across a number of areas that are all covered by the Port Operations NVQs – now have something to measure ourselves against.’

The qualifications have given PTS a platform to address a further business issue: the health and personal wellbeing of the Blyth workforce. Using the health and safety unit as a starting point, PTS has enlisted the local NHS to carry out health checks for every learner alongside their training needs analysis. As they progress through the programme, participants can access additional sessions to raise awareness of health and wellbeing both in and out of the workplace. The change of culture recognised as being crucial by the Port of Blyth, which resulted in health and education being integral to their workforce led to the Port of Blyth being awarded the Health, Work and Wellbeing Award for Small Businesses at the 2010 National Business Awards.

The vocational training includes literacy and numeracy assessments and a chance to develop these skills. Working with the local council, the training also provides the opportunity to focus on financial matters. The different strands link up to present a complete, holistic package to the workforce. From an employer’s point of view, a healthier workforce is a happier, more productive workforce. Therefore, it makes good business sense to assist people and ensure the availability of support and information for employees to make informed choices.

Key Message

Access to innovative, flexible and relevant training enhances the skills base of local ports in the North East of England. By investing in NVQs, the workforce acquires useful skills while on the job. With additions to the national recognised qualification – such as literacy and numeracy and health and wellbeing – employers invest time, effort and money in their workforce, improving their wellbeing, which ultimately changes their perspective of work, reduces staff turnover and accidents in a potentially hazardous environment. This improves productivity, while providing assurances to companies relocating to the area who require the services of ports to distribute goods.


ESF has provided the opportunity for 74 employees to access NVQ Level 2 in Port and Plant Operations. They are expected to complete their training and achieve their qualifications by the end of March 2011