Future Labour Market in the Port of Antwerp

Future Labour Market in the Port of Antwerp

Nominated for The Neil Mansfield Award


Anton Esser, University of Antwerp, Ann Verhetsel, University of Antwerp, Thierry Vanelslander, University of Antwerp


In developed countries, labour markets are rapidly transforming due to technological progress. Looking at the impact of innovation, possible scenarios for the future employment in the port of Antwerp are developed.


Technological progress is rapidly transforming labour markets in developed countries. Frey and Osborne (2013) predicted that in twenty years, almost half of the current jobs in the United States are at risk due to computerisation. Other studies revealed that this conclusion is exaggerated: Frey and Osborne (2013) did not take into account that jobs consist out of different tasks. Not all these tasks are at risk for automation or digitalisation (Autor, 2015; Graetz & Michaels, 2015; van Est & Kool, 2015; Went & Kremer, 2015). Middle skilled jobs have the highest risk of automation. This is leading to job polarisation because low- and high profiles have higher chances to be retained (Autor, 2015).
Next to the discussion on the amount of jobs, Autor (2015) states that automation will change the character of jobs. Humans and machines will be complementary more than ever in the future. (van Est & Kool, 2015).
Also the port sector is gradually changing due to digital innovation, leading to a change in the number of jobs and the character of jobs (Carlan, Sys et al. 2016). These are technological, as well as non-technological changes, i.e. marketing and organisational changes (Vanelslander, Sys et al. 2013).
Port dockers require more and additional skills to perform in a highly technological environment. There is a trend towards multi-skilling to increase efficiency and flexibility of the workers (Van Hooydonk, 2013). The evolution to smart ports where real-time data is continually gathered and monitored, will create a need for profiles with knowledge about activities in ports and information technology (IT) (Heilig, Schwarze, & Voss, 2017). In the logistics sector, IT is becoming increasingly more important to manage the flows of goods and data (Prajogo & Olhager, 2011). New business models are needed to remain competitive (Kindt & van der Meulen, 2016).
In the chemical sector, often concentrated in ports and one of the most important sectors in the port of Antwerp, there is a trend towards specialisation and widening of competences. On the one side employees need a specialised knowledge about processes, on the other side, they need to understand the broader process and be able to communicate this to other experts. Communication, co-operation and other personal assets are becoming increasingly important (De Vos & Gielens, 2016)
The central topic of this research is located on the intersection of three fields: innovation, labour market and the Antwerp port area. The research addresses the following question: what are possible scenarios for the development of employment characteristics in the port of Antwerp for the period 2017-2027, and how will they be impacted by innovation?
Based on the general trends obtained in a literature review, possible scenarios for the future labour market in the Antwerp port are developed, taking into account basic economic trends. The scenarios are quantified for the next decennium analysing detailed statistical data. To do this, first, an insight in the actual labour market in the port of Antwerp was provided. This data will also be compared with data of the Province of Antwerp and Flanders. Next, each scenario was quantified using the methodology of the FP7-project EDUCAIR. This methodology was previously used at the university of Antwerp to measure the amount of jobs and competences in the aviation sector. The scenarios were validated by conducting interviews with different stakeholders. The interviewees do not only consist out of the maritime, logistics and chemical companies and the related unions, but also other players linked with the port, such as financial institutions, legal experts, IT and technological developers. Finally, the interviews were used to give an overview of the job profiles needed for each scenario.
Expected results are that the maritime as well as the non-maritime cluster in the port will ask for higher diplomas. The minimum is a bachelor degree. Besides this, personal and interpersonal skills become more important. Besides this, the skills required will grow. All workers in each sector will have to cope with increasing levels of IT and ICT in their tasks. The number of different tasks performed by one worker will be higher in the future enabled by ICT.
Considering the number of jobs, employment in the port of Antwerp remained at a similar level over the period 1995-2008. A slight decline can be observed since then. Expected is that this trend is likely to continue in the future with a possible further decline of the labour force independent of the scenario regarded.


Association for European Transport