Interview with Capt Richard Brough, OBE

Richard Brough OBERichard Brough has played a leading role in skills development in the Humber Region for many years. His background in Merchant Shipping and port management gave him a strong interest in training, and he has been involved, in a voluntary capacity, on many committees related to skills development. Richard was recently appointed Chair of the North Bank Partnership of the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership. Archomai’s Neil Watson caught up with him to get his views on skills in the Humber.

How would you describe yourself and your career to date?

I have been involved in both the “wet” and “dry” side of the shipping industry for over 40 years, even an 8 year stint with the Royal Navy!

My career began with BP Tanker Co as a navigating cadet in 1969. The training regime had only just been converted from a traditional articled “Apprentice” and I was enrolled on the ONC route at the time. I progressed through the training, qualifications and ranks over the next few years, and several companies, achieving Master Mariner Class 1 at Hull Nautical College (now sadly closed). Captain status eventually followed but I moved ashore in 1989 as a cargo superintendent at Hull Container Terminal. There then followed a spell as Port Captain with OT Africa Line before I joined Northern Cargo Services as Operations Manager rising through the corporate ranks to become Managing Director when NCS was acquired by ABP. I left after four further years and formed my own company – Brough Marine advising major companies in the Ports and Logistics sector.

As a sideline I started UK Port Services which was eventually merged into a larger group. This was a specialist port skills provider tro many large port companies. My latest development is as Technical Adviser to ICHCA International which is the only dedicated membership organisation for cargo handling companies globally and has non-governmental organisation status with many UN agencies including IMO (International Maritime Organisation), ILO (International Labour Office), IAEA (international Atomic Energy Authority) , UNCTAD, ISO and others.

You have been involved in the Maritime and Ports sector for some time. How has the skills agenda for Ports and Logistics evolved over the last 10 years and where are we now?

Training and skills development in the sector , especially ports, became very fragmented after national organisations involved in this work were abolished. There were exemplars in the industry who carved out their own skills regimes but the sector has a high proportion of small operators who were at the mercy of cost pressure and lack of knowledge or time to do anything. The sector also faces the demographic time bomb of a relatively ageing workforce. Take up of the qualifications that had been developed was slow , except in the exemplar companies, for example NVQ’s have existed for some time but unless a key leader in the organisation believes in them and drives the initiative, then nothing happens. The advent of Sector Skills Councils, and latterly approval of a National Skills Academy Logistics, of which I am a board member, will help to re-vitalise this sluggish momentum. I am not a fan of clichés but the one I do subscribe to is “do what you always did and you’ll get what you always got”, we have to be innovative.

Regions worldwide see a well skilled and globally competitive workforce as key to sustainable growth. Focussing on the Humber – how does the Humber stack up against the best and what do you think needs to happen going forward?

The Humber largely mirrors the national picture. Pockets of excellence with some companies achieving much but large portions of the sector doing only what they are required to do by legislation. When we originally established “Team Humber” as the Group Training Association for Humber Ports (founded by NCS and Goole College) we had excellent take-up whilst it was backed by EDF funding from Brussels. The minute that ran out and we had to be self-sustaining we asked the member companies for £30 each and they all dropped out! The only part of TH now surviving is Team Humber Marine Alliance which focuses on engineering and maintenance and is in rude health. Hull College had success with the Ports and Logistics Cove and became the lead provider in the Logistics Academy Yorkshire and Humber and I am seeking their continuing involvement with the new National Academy.

What we need for sustainability going forward is for companies in the sector to recognise that there are no more free handouts from government and they must grasp the nettle on skills development or lose their competitive edge to organisations outside the area. The Humber region is a major centre for ports and logistics, this is likely to become even more important as renewable energy developments take off and we need to attract new companies and inward investment – but we also need to raise our game.

I am particularly excited by what some schools are achieving, Hornsea School and Hessle High School (which I have visited several times) are working hard in the sector to raise awareness and develop outcomes that guide students down the right path. I am also keen to see what will be achieved by the emerging “Studio Schools”.

There is much talk of Renewables these days and with Green Port there is going to be even more of an emphasis on this around the Humber. What impact will this have on the skills agenda?

A massive impact! This cannot be emphasised enough. At the Humber Compass (the Humber’s private/public skills board) meeting in Grimsby recently we had a presentation from Emma Toulson of Parsons Brinkerhoff, the consultants engaged by ERYCC to look at the skills we need to support renewables and start to drill down into specifics. We have a major challenge to fill not just the various skill levels the industry will demand but also the gaps that are left as workers transfer in from other sectors. Fortunately we had all of our Colleges and many schools involved in the sector present at that meeting and the message is getting home. Local government is on-side too and this is a key priority of both the LEP board itself and of course the North Bank Partnership board. We will be heavily involved in programme management for the RGF money that has been awarded to us for skills development for the sector.

You have been involved in training and performance improvement all over the world. What role do you see for technology in the training agenda, as Archomai and this blog have been promoting?

Up to date, much of what is delivered in the sector has depended on traditional delivery with perhaps whiteboards and tablets being the most technology learners have been exposed to. Larger companies with expensive pieces of kit , such as container cranes, have embarked on more sophisticated training programmes with simulators etc but these have been more widely used on the continent for example where dedicated training centres exist. In the UK, this has suffered from fragmentation and attempts to bring it back together have suffered from competitiveness . This is something I hope will change as the National Academy gathers momentum and taps into existing resource. I call this “competitive collaboration” where individual companies recognise they still compete but work together to “raise the bar”, something the whole sector will benefit from. To reach those smaller companies we need greater innovation in delivery and flexibility and technology can provide this, through greater use of simulation, e-learning, development of apps etc. We will be focussing on this in the work of the Academy.

Where will the skills agenda be in ten years from now – UK wide and then, for the Humber?

The Humber will be a microcosm of the UK in the main. There will be a shift away from low skilled manufacturing and processing jobs into higher level skills for advanced manufacturing and the growing services sector. This will require much greater emphasis in schools on STEM subjects, and this transition is in progress now of course. Apprenticeships and other qualifications will focus more towards advanced level and we will need to grow more middle and senior managers locally. You can already see where some of the bottlenecks are, STEM I have already mentioned but now there is also a trend building to change the way we teach IT and hopefully develop the next generation of software developers and programmers. Game programming is already an important aspect for the Humber region. I also believe that we need to new and engaging ways of linking schools and business, something colleges have managed quite successfully.

You have recently taken on two new roles: Chair of the North Bank Partnership of Humber LEP and Technical Adviser at ICHCA International Ltd. In both organisations, skills development is an important activity. Do you see ways that the LEP and ICHCA could assist each other?

They operate with completely different focus and areas of engagement so in a direct sense no. However the through experience and contacts I bring to their respective tables , potentially and it will be part of what I do, as it always has been really, to disseminate ideas and share knowledge to all the organisations I work with.


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