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Skills revolution near you

30 October 2013

Skills for Logistics Director of Intelligence and Strategy Dr Ross Moloney sets out the skills challenges and solutions facing the UK’s supply chain and logistics sector.

Britain has led the way in supply chain development over the past few decades but in 2014 and onwards, three additional factors will have a significant and increasing impact on supply chains and the skills needed within them: globalisation, internet shopping and environmental sustainability.

Globalisation has led to extremely long supply chains into Europe, creating a need for consolidation/distribution points. This potentially throws the UK into competition with its European neighbours for the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to establish and run these centres. There is a direct link between improving the skills and the standing of the UK as a destination for supply chain operations and the FDI they bring.

The impact of globalisation is also felt in the continued development of online retail. Logistics skills necessary to support this type of fulfillment cover the whole supply chain, with speed and agility being at a premium as well as customer-facing skills in carrying out and supporting home delivery. As this is often done at the end of very long supply chains, reliability is a critical factor. 

As countries across Europe adopt carbon-reduction policies, environmental sustainability kicks in. With its massive fleets and large sheds logistics attracts the attention of governments looking to internalise external environmental costs. This focus will only increase and will bring with it a new need for compliance and evaluation skills and the project management and negotiation skills necessary to deliver collaboration between logistics companies in order to achieve sustainability.

These are just some of the transformations in supply chain and logistics already requiring new skills sets and, because change will continue, the sector will benefit from attracting personnel capable of keeping abreast of new technology and systems. An aging population will inevitably see a growing trend towards an older logistics workforce. They will need to adapt to new technologies and ways of working, which employers will be seeking to introduce to increase efficiency and competitiveness.



Soft skills

Some of the most important new skills sets will be ‘soft skills’; logisticians without good customer service skills will be found wanting, while communication is a vital ingredient for successful collaboration, which is an increasingly important part of modern supply chain management - whether between partners in a chain or even between competitors.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) recently published Evidence Report 67 October 2012 Transportation and Storage: Sector Skills Assessment 2012. Data in the report suggests because there is a lack of applicants with the required skills, nearly a fifth of vacancies are classified as hard to fill. The report identifies that job specific skills are most commonly lacking in addition to customer handling skills.  The picture is similar with existing workforce. The impact of skills gaps includes higher operating costs and a blunter competitive edge.

Although, as the report finds, the majority of employers are attempting to overcome these skills gaps through increasing training it is the failure to provide appropriate training that is reported to contribute to over a quarter of the skills gaps.

Total jobs in the Transport and Storage sector are forecast to grow by 95,000 between 2010 and 2020 with replacement demand of 553,000. This means that 647,000 job openings are expected in the period across all occupational groups in the sector. There is an immediate need to ensure that we supply the right skills that effectively meet the changing needs and requirements of the sector labour market.

Clearly new supply chain management skills are necessary and they need to be in place fast. However, most of the 2.4 million people working in the sector are logistics foot-soldiers. We need to ensure that they also have the requisite skills and the self-esteem to develop their roles to meet the challenges. 

Only 20 per cent of those 2.4 million will be managers, and they have a number of organisations already doing a great job serving their needs. But the remaining 1.9 million who work in all capacities within logistics also need a fraternity that can offer support. 

A year ago, Skills for Logistics (SfL) created the modern Logistics Guild, a free-to-join member network, run by its members for its members; to share ideas and to offer support, guidance, development and jobs. No qualifications are required for joining the Guild and its focus will be on operatives in the Logistics Sector.

The Guild houses SfL’s Professional Development Stairway (PDS), which allows individuals to match their skills, qualifications and job roles to agreed national job standards across the industry. They can see where they are in their career.  Moreover it allows them to see directions they can take and the skills/experience combination that employers are looking for.  All of this information is underwritten by SfL’s industry remit for National Occupation Standards for all jobs across the logistics functions. For those not yet in logistics then it gives clear visibility of what those qualifications and skills are and where those skills can be obtained.  

By joining the Guild candidates will be demonstrating the self-awareness and willingness to grow, which employers value. People working in blue collar logistics roles want to at least start their careers locally.


Think local

Our ‘competitors’ include shops, hotels, bars, restaurants, hospitals and care homes. At Skills for Logistics we have developed the concept of Local Logistics Community Networks or LLCNs. Where clusters of logistics activity take place, then we look to group those employers together and make it easier and more effective for them to get ‘first pickings’ of good, job-ready recruits.

We have piloted the LLCNs at a number of locations around the UK, notably in Daventry and Belshill where logistics is a key employer. An LLCN is a group of logistics employers who work together to ensure that the message about logistics as a job and a career gets out to the various new talent groups across their catchment area. They look at schools, colleges, universities, military installations, prisons, Job Centres, disadvantaged youths with organisations such as Princes Trust etc.

We have run successful pilots of Job Clubs and mentoring so that we, as a sector can offer enough to aspiring recruits to make us ‘employers of choice’ in the local area.

Our focus on local has been matched across England by the establishment of 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which represent working partnerships between local authorities and other bodies. A key requirement for the LEPs is that they engage with local businesses to ensure that they meet their needs.

LEPs need to engage with local employers. As a sector, we need to speak to LEPs with a single voice. If we don’t, our competitors will and they’ll clean up.