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Building back better: new technology to re-shape region’s ports as offshore demand increases in Norfolk and Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 15:17 07 August 2020 | UPDATED: 15:54 07 August 2020

Felixstowe is the UK's largest port and is likely to introduce further automation in the next few years. Picture: Getty Images

Felixstowe is the UK's largest port and is likely to introduce further automation in the next few years. Picture: Getty Images

By Igor Filchakov

In the second of our series showcasing career opportunities in Norfolk and Suffolk, we look at the impact technology is having on ports in the New Anglia region.

Increased automation will have an impact on how ports operate in the UK and across the world. Picture: Getty ImagesIncreased automation will have an impact on how ports operate in the UK and across the world. Picture: Getty Images

For centuries, the ports of Norfolk and Suffolk have connected the region to Europe and the rest of the world. Despite changes to new technologies and updated business models, their critical role in UK trade continues to grow.

There’s no denying that the ports and logistics sector is changing rapidly. In the New Anglia region, passenger transport now accounts for

just 14pc of local employment opportunities, while freight dominates. The region is home to the UK’s largest container port, Felixstowe, with King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Ipswich – the UK’s number one grain export port – also playing their part.

For 40 years the ports, along with Norwich Airport, have also supported the growth of the offshore energy sector – something which is only set to grow with the creation of two of the world’s largest offshore windfarms: Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas.

It is expected that around 25,000 new jobs will be created in the ports and logistics sector between 2014 and 2024. Picture: Getty ImagesIt is expected that around 25,000 new jobs will be created in the ports and logistics sector between 2014 and 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Around 22,500 people are currently employed in the sector, but the transport logistics sector, which incorporates rail, road, air, storage and warehousing is much bigger, employing around 48,700 people in the New Anglia region – just over 6pc of the area’s total workforce.

WHAT ARE THE CURRENT OPPORTUNITIES?

It is expected that around 25,000 new jobs will be created in the ports and logistics sector between 
2014 and 2024. A significant number of these (around 19,000) will be to replace people who have retired or left the sector, but it is expected that over this time skills will also change as new technologies and changing priorities re-shape demand.

Tom Duit, operations manager at ABP Lowestoft. Picture: ABPTom Duit, operations manager at ABP Lowestoft. Picture: ABP

Development is likely in the region’s distribution routes, including road and rail, to bolster the region’s capacity to carry freight – something which already dominates road and rail links in the New Anglia region. Felixstowe, the UK’s largest container port, handling approximately 40pc of traffic, is one example of this. It’s already largely automated but is expected to make substantial investment over the next few years. Although new equipment can, in theory, be operated from anywhere, new skills will be required to continue operations.

In particular, new jobs are expected in engineering, including electrical engineering, and ICT to cater for the increase of autonomous vehicles and digitally-enabled operations.

Renewable and offshore energy is also key in the sector’s growth in the New Anglia region.

WHAT ARE THE ROUTES INTO THE SECTOR?

Taking part in work experience at a ports or logistics company is a fantastic way to get a feel for the sector and will help you decide if this is the right industry and career trajectory for you.

Some companies like ABP also offer apprenticeship and graduate schemes, allowing you to learn from skilled and experienced professionals.

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The sector invites applicants with experience across other sectors too – particularly those with a background in engineering or digital technologies. 
The University of Essex also offers a targeted postgraduate course in International Logistics and Supply Chain Management.

IN FOCUS

Tom Duit admits that a bachelor’s degree in history isn’t what many might expect for a career in the ports industry – but he says it still provided him with the right skills for the job.

“Many people think history is the study of dates,” he says, “but it’s mainly the study of people’s opinions and forming your own based on their views – that’s essentially what I do now in my day-to-day role.”

Tom started at Associated British Ports (ABP) in January last year as an operations manager at the port in Lowestoft. He looks after the general day-to-day management of the port, collaborating with a diverse range of people from across the business. “I essentially act as a focal point for the various local and regional functions – such as property, commercial, 
HR, health and safety, compliance, engineering and finance – and make decisions based on their recommendations.”

But it wasn’t just Tom’s degree that put him in good stead for the job – it was his work experience, too.

Before heading off to university, Tom decided to seek out some experience onsite with ABP. He spent some time at sites in Immingham, Ipswich and his hometown of Lowestoft and knew that the experience could help him stand out in the future.

But it also helped him to know if it was the job for him. “Having prior experience with ABP, I knew the role would provide me with different challenges each day,” he says. “I like this variety – it keeps me switched on and interested.” Tom says that one of his favourite aspects of his role is working with colleagues to deliver important infrastructure upgrades throughout the port. 
“It really feels like the port is changing for the better and being pulled into the 21st century.”

Part of this, he says, is in the port’s role in offshore energy. He believes that the sector will grow tenfold in the coming decades, 
and with it will come plenty of opportunities in Lowestoft over the next two to three years. “This will not only benefit the port,” he says, “but the local supply chain and the community.”

With 21 sites across the country, Tom says that ABP offers great prospects as an employer. “There’s plenty of opportunity all around the country, and in different sectors,” he says. “It’s all about employing the right people and giving them the chance to get on and dive in.”

FIND OUT MORE

https://careers.abports.co.uk/

www.prospects.ac.uk

www.ccn.ac.uk/courses/subject-areas/engineering

For more advice about careers opportunities in Norfolk and Suffolk, check out our Building Back Better supplement.


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