Port services company Southampton Cargo Handling (SCH) has embarked on a major information technology training initiative designed to equip its stevedores with computer skills.

The programme to bolster the computer capability of the SCH workforce is to accommodate increasing customer demands for a great level of multi-skilling.

SCH, the port of Southampton's biggest stevedore, has established a training package, based on a government-funded initiative, for its core workers in word processing, spreadsheets, the Internet and using e-mail.

Kevin Cursons, SCH's quality and safety manager, said: "Initially the course will be taken by office personnel and others based at the berth offices. Then we plan to expand the opportunity out into the workforce so everyone in the company has the chance.

"The days of SCH being only a stevedoring company are gone. Nowadays our customers expect us to have the skills to play a much wider role in their operations.''

SCH's strategy towards increased training also includes further courses for their supervisory staff, run in conjunction with the Learning and Skills Council.

All the company's supervisory staff on the quayside will undergo training in areas such as financial awareness, contract law and effective management as well as health and safety as part of another initiative by SCH to improve commercial ability and the level of customer service.