Indonesia plans to become a maritime powerhouse, an idea that is certain to demand a highly skilled workforce: What are the ramifications for education and training?

Cranes at an Indonesian port

As an archipelagic state and one close to some of the world’s busiest waterways, Indonesia’s maritime sector is of vital importance.


The country has a large export task with oil and gas, minerals including coal and nickel and aquaculture produce such as seaweed.

In this context, it is perhaps natural that Indonesia would seek to enhance its status as a maritime power. The Australia-Indonesia Centre has been examining what kind of digital skills are needed to make this a reality.

The port at Makassar has provided a useful case study. Situated on the busy regional shipping route of the Makassar Strait, it’s being expanded by the operators, the state-owned entity Pelindo.

The AIC’s Partnership for Australia-Indonesia Research (PAIR) program has collected evidence on the kinds of digital skills that Pelindo managers need compared with the skill level that currently exists.

The AIC executive director Eugene Sebastian recently met with Pelindo IV to discuss first-hand the insights gained, which includes the need to give employees specialist training and certification beyond vocational education courses.

“Areas like logistics and supply chain, port operations and engineering, and digital literacy, came up often in [PAIR research],” Dr Sebastian said.

“Embedding courses with soft skills – such as problem-solving, leadership, and negotiation skills – was another common theme.”

A changing maritime sector

President Joko Widodo’s vision for a “maritime axis” has resulted in Indonesia making substantial changes to its maritime settings, initiating its Motorways of the Sea Program to improve the movement of goods and merging the state-owned ports — Pelindo I, II, II, and IV.

At the time of the ports’ merger, state owned enterprise vice minister Kartika Wirjoatmodjo said integrating Pelindo was essential to boost growth and economic equity.

“Indonesia, as a vast maritime country, must have a more integrated shipping and freight channel plan,” the minister said.

Dr Sebastian said the fact Indonesian ports were part of a network owned by a state-owned enterprise made them attractive for education providers.

“Often, many have their own training ecosystem, including a university and VET institutions,” he said.

“This makes the courses’ affordability and delivery scalability the two standout features. And it opens up opportunities for joint partnership, curriculum licensing or train-the-trainer activities.”

Associate Professor Sherah Kurnia from the School of Computing at Melbourne university co-authored a report into digital skills needs at Pelindo Regional IV as part of PAIR and identified a gap between the digital skills of employees and the expectations of management.

Professor Kurnia said their report indicated port management could enhance employees’ digital literacy via more in-house training, a scholarship program, strategic partnerships and employee exchanges.

“These five actions are expected to close the current gap in foundational and supply chain management-related digital literacy, which has become a critical success factor in supply chain and port operations,” Professor Kurnia said.

International training efforts

The need for Indonesia to upskill its maritime and ports workforce has been made further afield, with the International Labour Organization co-launching a training program Skills for Prosperity in 2019 in conjunction with the government of the United Kingdom.

According to the ILO, Indonesia and neighbouring Timor Leste are finding it difficult to respond to the skills needs of their workforce “in a time of increasing globalisation, new technology and changing patterns of work”.

“Both Indonesia and Timor-Leste also have severe shortages of skilled labour due to the out-migration of skilled workers, an ageing workforce or simply the lack of capacity to provide training,” the ILO stated.

“Training programs available are often out of date and do not meet the needs of industry.”

The chief executive of the Australian Logistics Council and former director of a university research and development centre for supply chain and logistics, Dr Hermione Parsons, previously worked with the Indonesian government in the design and delivery of vocational education as well as graduate and post graduate programs.

Dr Parsons said improving port efficiency meant improving the entire logistics chain across an archipelago of more than 17000 islands – where 7000 are inhabited.

“Indonesia has made logistics functionality a national priority. Its capability, capacity and skills needs are more than just at the ports, but along end-to-end logistics chains,” Dr Parsons said, noting also the importance of coastal shipping for an archipelagic nation.

“The coastal shipping task is absolutely fundamental to the import, export and domestic supply chain opportunities for Indonesia as well as its economic and social wellbeing,” Dr Parsons said.

Feature image: Kevin Yudhistira Alloni and Unsplash


Picture of David Sexton

Digital Communications Coordinator
The Australia-Indonesia Centre