As it struggles with being ranked among the slowest and most costly ports in the region, the Bridgetown Port is to pair cargo and cruise dockworkers with mentors in a bid to improve its service, officials said today.
And already the minister for the port is touting the human resource initiative as a likely model elsewhere in the public service.
Beginning January 13, about 30 of the port’s nearly 500 workers are to be paired with mentors who are to provide them with guidance, listen to their concerns and bring solutions, Barbados Port Inc. has announced.
Those to be mentored will have the option of identifying their first, second and third choice of mentors they want to be paired with, said Curtis Smith, the post’s Divisional Manager of Human Relations and Industrial Relations.
Smith revealed that he was challenged to increase employee engagement by 75 per cent by the end of this year, and the mentorship programme would help to do just that, albeit months later than planned.
He explained that the programme would last six months in the initial phase, followed by an assessment and necessary tweaks made before it continues.
The initiative is to help transform the port into the “most innovative green maritime hub in the world by 2030”, board chairman Senator Lisa Cummins said.
She said the mentorship programme was one of the “many initiatives” that Government would be carrying out to improve the port.
She said: “We have to be able to convert historical and longstanding knowledge of the Bridgetown Port into best practice modern best practice of what the Port needs to be for a future generation of Barbadian port workers.
“On that basis we devised this programme.”
Pointing out that Barbados was struggling with its ranking in trading across borders, Senator Cummins said it was taking longer to do everything than almost every port in the region except one, and it was also more expensive to do business at the Bridgetown Port than it was at most other ports in the region.
“We are committed to driving cost down, and driving the time it takes to do everything down by investing in training, up-skilling, the provision of equipment to be able to provide those key services to our workforce, and of course, incorporating innovation into everything that we do.”
She said authorities will ensure that whatever “aggressive moves” were done to upgrade the port, they would be done to match the most competitive ports in the world.
The Bridgetown Port mentors will in turn be paired with mentors from best-practice international ports, such as the Port of West Palm Beach, Port of Rotterdam, Port of Southampton, the chairman said.
Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey also revealed that the Barbados Port Inc. was seeking to forge relationship with counterparts in New Zealand, Ghana and Kenya to help improve trade.
He described the mentorship programme as a game changer, adding that it will be “one of the simplest most transformative aspects in Government”.
Stating that Barbados was faced with some challenges relating to competitiveness and getting the public sector to be more productive, Humphrey said most of the solutions that were needed could be found among the workers who carry out the day to day tasks.
He said: “There is a view that those at the top understand everything and have all the solutions.
“That is an old approach to leadership, and it has failed us as a country and if we stick to it then it will continue to fail us as a country and fail us as a port.
“That old idea of leadership is built on protection, direction and order… but we also know that type of leadership is not needed now.
“What we need is genuine leadership that is inspired form the bottom up, where people are involved in it and are a part of the decision-making processes.
“The kind of leadership that will mobilize people to tackle the most difficult challenges that we face as a port, as a ministry and as a government.”
Though not referring directly to the Barbados Port, Humphrey warned: “We have some departments that look as if they are working, some people that come to work and look as if they are working, but we know… not all of us work as hard as we make it look, there is insincere mimicry, which leads to mediocrity.”
But the Maritime Affairs Minister said he was confident that the mentorship programme would help improve the post’s operations, adding that he hoped it would be replicated across all government departments.