5 workforce planning challenges experienced in Container Port Operations

5 workforce planning challenges experienced in Container Port Operations

Cargo containers and ships often stand out as the most noticeable aspect of port operations, but the people behind these operations really drive the company’s success. These people are responsible for keeping containers and ships moving and for over 8 million containers (or TEU) handled nationwide in 2021 and some 866 million TEU globally in 2022.

As a result, workforce planning and management is a massive job for container port operations. With any number of people across various roles working on the port at any given time, managers need visibility over their workforce and the tools to adapt.

What common workforce planning challenges do we often see in container port operations?

Rostering the right people 

Container port operations run 24/7 and have stringent timelines, with cargo scheduled for loading and unloading within specific timeframes. Delays become costly regarding time and finances, and customers expect strict adherence to schedules. Container port operations need the right people working at the right time to ensure efficiency, productivity and quality of service. Time and attendance software delivers real-time insights into staff presence and highlights the gaps.

Changing market demands also contribute to the workforce planning challenges in container port operations. Managers must adapt their workforces to changing operational needs without compromising employee welfare or operational coverage. For effective planning, managers need comprehensive data, including employee skills, availability, leave, personnel equity, rostering and work rules. Using this data ensures the right staff allocation at all times.

Demand-driven rosters support organisations in meeting operational needs and can help to optimise the workforce around ship arrivals. Automated rostering platforms ensure your organisation places skilled workers where needed, cost-effectively, enhancing operational efficiency and turn around time.

Keeping labour costs under control

Overtime and absences often add hidden costs to container port operations. Penalty rates are frequent occurrences due to the round-the-clock nature of the industry. Reducing these costs by even a small margin can boost profitability.

Improving staff scheduling is one of the first ways to reduce labour costs because it helps eliminate problems such as over- and under-staffing. With these tools, workforce managers can adhere to budgets, make necessary adjustments, and ensure rosters meet operational and financial needs. Proper scheduling should align with demand, reducing overtime and unproductive periods.

Reducing administrative tasks is another way to reduce labour costs here. For example, automated time and attendance solutions such as fingerprint biometric devices and smartphone apps streamline the tedious process of manually completing timesheets. Saving time in the back office also means you can reduce labour costs there.

In many countries, port operations may employ a unionised workforce and adhering to enterprise agreements is paramount. Annualised hours, travel allowances, casual conversion and leave and training time may need to be carefully managed. Higher duties, and other penalty rates can be challenging to calculate without a dedicated workforce management platform. Without the insight and visibility that workforce management systems provide, these things can quickly add up to a sizeable problem and become a costly expense.

Maintain compliance with regulations

Meeting regulatory requirements is another workforce planning challenge in managing container port operations. Due to the physical nature of the work, managers must reduce risks and maintain a compliant, skilled workforce. Managing fatigue is especially important, as operations run 24/7 with people working odd or overnight shifts. 

For example, physical weariness from prolonged tasks can lead to musculoskeletal injuries. Workers engaged in repetitive tasks need scheduled breaks to prevent occupational overuse injuries.

Effective fatigue management becomes crucial with the rising emphasis on roster-related fatigue risks. Given the physical nature of port work, organisations must ensure rosters comply with fatigue management standards, such as mandatory rest breaks between and during shifts. 

Workforce management tools assess and score workforce fatigue to help container port operations maintain compliance and reduce risk. Managers can understand fatigue patterns and create rosters that prioritise health and safety. Additionally, an auditable record provides transparency on the processes.

Optimise communication across the workforce

Clear communication with employees is essential in container port operations. Automated, mobile-ready communication platforms provide real-time, transparent interactions, keeping employees informed and engaged. With direct access to roster details and operational updates, employees remain well-informed, building a culture of transparency and trust, ultimately boosting morale and operational efficiency.

Solutions like Interactive Voice Response (IVR), SMS, self-service, attendance clocking, workflow, and email functionalities reduce the time and costs of managing communication across a large workforce. These tools make it easier for people to have questions answered faster, reducing unproductive time and promoting clarity.


Container port operations demand a mix of agility and precision in workforce management. To meet demand, these organisations require effective rostering that places the right people at the right place. Simultaneously, organisations must control labour costs to ensure operations remain profitable. This industry requires stringent compliance with regulations due to the physical nature of work and tight schedules in round-the-clock operations. 

Workforce management tools handle all these elements to cultivate a communicative, safe and efficient workforce. With the right tools, container port operations can meet today’s challenges and prepare their business for future needs. 

Tambla solves the workforce planning challenges in Container Port Operations

Your customers have high expectations, and delays can become expensive problems for any company. Our team understands the unique challenges of managing container port operations and can provide solutions that improve communication, efficiency and compliance.

Tambla enables your team to reduce labour costs and roster the right people – increasing productivity and without compromising work health and safety. Visit our Ports and Stevedoring page for more information and to download our free datasheet.

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