When he finished high school, Ben, 28, began a traineeship with P&O at Port Botany in Sydney. His father worked as a wharf labourer for 30 years so Ben already had a strong knowledge of stevedoring. After working on the wharves, Ben moved into the office and eventually a management position in Brisbane. As a yard planner he is now responsible for monitoring shipping containers that come and go from the port each day.
Initially, I applied to university to become a PE teacher, but my dad had worked on the wharves so it had always been on my mind as a possible career path. When a job came up with P&O Ports I decided to apply for it. I spoke with people working for the company and realised it was a really good opportunity, so, when I got the job, I took it.
I started a traineeship with P&O (which was acquired by DP World) as a wharf labourer in 1997. For two and a half years they trained me in everything – the cranes, machines and clerical work. There was on-the-job training and in-house P&O courses. I also did computer courses and a TAFE course in the history of shipping. After the traineeship I worked as a crane driver for five years before I became a clerk. I then moved up to Brisbane to work as a yard planner.
I had to go and do a general test with Maths and problem-solving questions. Then I had an interview, along with a day at Port Botany for group activities where the recruiters spoke to everyone to get an idea of what we were all like. Finally, there was a medical test.
When a ship arrives in port, I organise where in the terminal the cargo needs to go. I also organise the cargo that goes onto a ship. So I’m pretty much in charge of the whole layout of the yard and have to do regular stocktakes. Probably eight to ten ships come into the port a week. Some come in and stay for two days, while others are there for only 16 hours. We deal with relatively small vessels because Fisherman’s Island is not a very big terminal – Sydney and Melbourne handle larger ships. I also look after quarantine issues. The cargo is mainly shipping containers, but we do handle a bit of break-bulk, which means loose cargo such as timber. The containers are mostly from Asia.
The whole terminal runs on a computer system called SPARCS which keeps track of where all the containers are. All of the machines in the yard are tied into the same computer system. So every time a container moves, the person controlling the machinery has to enter the details into the computer.
We get a lot of containers that come from Pacific islands, which have to be quarantined. Quarantine sends us a list of each container coming in that they want held and inspected. We have a washing gang at the port, so if a container goes up for inspection and is found to be dirty, we have the equipment to clean it. This happens quite often.
The other yard planner and myself share shifts. One of us will work from 6.30 am until 2.30 pm, and then the other person will do 2.30 pm until 10.30 pm. I work five days one week, and then six the next week, so there’s always someone covering a weekend. However, all of these hours depend on how heavy the shipping is on each day.