Skill needs of Indonesia’s port industry: A case study of Makassar New Port

As the sun rises over the Makassar New Port, a hub of activity comes to life.

Built in 2015 as a national strategic project, the port has quickly become a crucial part of Indonesia’s maritime capabilities, serving as a gateway for trade and economic growth.

Located in an area with a rich agricultural base and an emerging industrial zone brimming with potential, the port is poised to become the largest facility of its kind outside of the island of Java.

For the young people of South Sulawesi, the Makassar New Port represents an exciting opportunity.

Already, more than 12% of port workers are between the ages of 15 and 24, and half are between 25 and 40.

These workers are the driving force behind the port, keeping it running smoothly and efficiently.

But what does it take to succeed in the specialised fields of port engineering and operations?

That’s the question a recent Australia-Indonesia Centre study set out to answer, surveying mentors, fresh graduates, entry-level employees, and stakeholders to understand the knowledge and skills gaps of young workers and compare them to industry expectations.

The Makassar New Port is a hub of activity, with ships coming and going, cargo being loaded and unloaded, and a busy workforce keeping everything running smoothly.

Port engineering workers are responsible for the construction and maintenance of the port facilities, ensuring that they are safe, efficient, and able to handle the demands of the shipping industry.

They might work on projects like building new docks, repairing damaged infrastructure, or designing new systems to improve the flow of cargo.

Port operations workers, on the other hand, are responsible for the day-to-day running of the port.

They might work in roles such as ship guiding, coordinating the movement of cargo, or maintaining equipment.

They need to have a strong understanding of the logistics of port operations and be able to make quick, informed decisions to keep things moving smoothly.

Both port engineering and port operations are highly specialised fields, and it takes a combination of technical knowledge, practical skills, and soft skills to succeed.

The Makassar New Port is an exciting place to work, and for the young people of South Sulawesi, it represents a great opportunity to build a career and make a real difference in their community.

Photo by Fatur Rachman on


According to The Australia-Indonesia Centre study – supported by The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the South Sulawesi Government and Indonesia’s Ministry of Transportation – employers in the field of port operations and engineering have noticed a gap in the skills and knowledge of recent graduates.

They believe that while these graduates have a good foundation in their respective degree programs, such as a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, they lack the specialised skills necessary to excel in the field.

To address this issue, they recommend that vocational and higher education institutions update their curriculum to focus more on port operations and management.

This includes incorporating relevant topics into existing programs, creating new subjects to address new areas of need, and creating streams to allow students to specialise in port engineering and operation.

Additionally, these institutions should incorporate ‘soft skills’ such as problem-solving, critical thinking, leadership, software and programming, and ethics into the curriculum.

Employers are specifically interested in professional certification in areas such as port operational management, logistics and supply chain, Building Information Modelling, construction modelling, port construction and construction management, digital-based multimedia, automation, mechatronics, and Safety, Health & Environment.

They also value ‘soft’ or intelligent skills such as foreign language proficiency, knowledge of regulations, work ethics, adapting technology, problem-solving, leadership, negotiation skills, presentation skills, time management, and communications.

Photo by Muh Fikry Rezky on Unsplash


The study also found that the port industry is dominated by men, with 75 percent of workers in port operations and 89 percent in engineering identifying as male.

This raises questions about how to create an inclusive learning and working environment for women and people with disabilities, as the under representation of these groups can perpetuate the idea that they are not suited for careers in the industry.

To address this, there needs to be increased visibility of the profession and its different work roles to attract a diverse group of people and signal the skills required for a career in the industry.

This should start from the early stages of education and involve hearing from leaders and people in port operations and engineering, and explaining the important role that the port industry plays in the national economy.

While the overall perception is that young workers have reasonable skills, there are gaps in specific knowledge for both port engineering and port operations.

For example, in port engineering, these gaps include knowledge of ships, hydro oceanography, port layouts and dock facilities.

In port operations, the specific competencies or hard skills considered lacking include the ability to calculate optimal port capacity, operational capabilities such as operating Reach Stackers, ship guiding, equipment maintenance, and practical skills in the field.

Aside from specific technical skills, there is also a need to develop emotional and critical thinking skills such as communication, leadership, discipline, responsibility, work ethics, teamwork, innovation and self-development.

Both managers and young workers identified the need to develop self-confidence as important but lacking.

In order to address the skills gap among young workers and the lack of diversity in the port industry, the study recommends that short courses in vocational education be developed.

These courses should be designed to meet the training needs of young people and the skills requirements of port operators.

Additionally, existing curricula in vocational education should be updated to align with these needs.

To make sure women and minority groups are able to pursue careers in port operations and port engineering, it’s also important to provide facilities and course schedules that are accommodating to their needs, as well as tools that are easy to use.

This will help these groups to have better access to the opportunities in this field, and creating an inclusive learning and working environment.

Way forward for policymakers

As a way forward for policymakers, it is suggested that certified short course training be introduced in vocational education and higher education to address the skill gaps in the areas of port operations and engineering.

This training would focus on several key areas:

In port operations, training would be offered on equipment, including equipment knowledge, loading-unloading equipment operation, operational capabilities, and equipment maintenance (all requiring certification).

Additionally, training would be provided on ship operating procedures and navigation, port management and operation, such as container terminal operation, calculation of demand and capacity of port services, pier berth occupancy ratio, market knowledge (supply chain), and logistics, and also on maritime regulations including safety regulations, safety and health work environment and regulations for protecting the marine environment.

In port engineering, training would be provided on port construction and management, including port development master plan, port construction and construction modelling, construction management, project management, port business venture, international ports, port services, Safety, Health and Environment, building information methodology, and lean construction.

As well as on Port operation, operational tools, automation, mechatronics, crane machinery, container handling skills, ships and ship navigation, Port design: hydrographic and bathymetric survey, hydro oceanography, port layouts, breakwaters, shipping lanes, harbour pools, jetty construction and dock facilities, fenders, and Port structural design, foundation engineering, land and topography survey, structural design.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Research & Technology encourages internship programs in port operations and port engineering through its “Merdeka Belajar Kampus Merdeka” (MBKM) program.

Universities also can partner with ports to develop internship opportunities, which will provide students with hands-on experience in the field, helping them to build the skills they need to succeed in this industry.

A way forward for education institutions

To address the skills gap in the areas of port operations and engineering, higher education institutions and polytechnics can update their curriculum to better align with industry needs.

This includes adding new subjects and updating existing ones in the following areas:

In port operations, students would learn about the operation of loading-unloading equipment, knowledge of equipment for operational permit, operational capabilities, equipment maintenance, and container terminal operation.

They would also learn about ship guiding, ship operating procedures and navigation, port management and operation, estimation of Pier Berth Occupancy Ratio, demand and capacity of port services, market knowledge (supply chain), and logistics, and also about maritime regulations, including safety regulations, safety and health work environment, and environmental protection.

In port engineering, students would learn about port development master plan, port construction modelling, project management, port business venture, international ports, port services, Safety, Health and Environment, port operational tools, automation, mechatronics, crane machinery, and container handling skills, ships and ship navigation, mooring, hydrography and bathymetric survey, Hydro oceanography, port layouts, breakwaters, shipping lanes, harbour pools, jetty construction and dock facilities, fenders, foundation engineering, structural design, land survey, topography, Building Information Modelling and lean construction, Artificial Intelligence and advanced port engineering.

It is also suggested that specific topics such as design problems in port structures be added to existing civil and environmental engineering courses, and new subjects be created if the knowledge gap in specific areas is significant.

Furthermore, new specialisations that allow students to complete relevant subjects in port engineering and operation, embedded with soft skills such as English Language proficiency, presentations, problem-solving skills, critical thinking, interpersonal skills, leadership skills, software and programming, adapting to technology and ethics should be created.

Universities and polytechnics should also consider partnering with Australian education providers to enhance their offerings and internationalise their student experience through joint or double degree arrangements.


Partnership for Australia-Indonesia Research (PAIR), 2023, Knowledge and skills gaps of young workers in port engineering and operations; a case study of Makassar New Port, A policy brief, Australia-Indonesia Centre.

Project team | Authors | Partners

Professor Alexander Babanin (University of Melbourne), Professor Muhammad Arsyad (Universitas Hasanuddin),
Dr Elisa Lumantarna (University of Melbourne), Dr Eugene Sebastian (Australia-Indonesia Centre), Helen Brown (Australia-Indonesia Centre), Kevin Evans (Australia-Indonesia Centre), Febi Trihermanto (Australia-Indonesia Centre), Steve Wright (Australia-Indonesia Centre)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s