Tackling The Skill Gaps
By Louis Perrin
It’s probably fair to say that logistics has traditionally been seen as a career that many people “fall into” rather than actively seek to enter.
Until very recently, there has been relatively little effort to promote logistics to post-school and college/university-age young people as a positive career path, despite degree studies in logistics and supply chain management being widely available across UK academic institutions at bachelor’s and master’s degree levels.
Although there are signs that things may be changing, the reality is that a skills gap exists in the UK logistics industry, and as a result there is plenty of scope for that gap to be filled by individuals – from the UK or overseas – with the right academic or vocational training. But how does the UK logistics arena compare with other parts of the world?
If we’re honest, the logistics sector in the U.S. is probably a couple of decades ahead of the UK in recognizing the importance of getting people with the right level of training into logistics roles at all levels, and the academic and training environment in the U.S. supports that.
From the employer’s point of view, U.S. companies are clearly at a place where they see logistics and supply chain management as important business functions where efficiencies and smart strategic planning can boost the bottom line; it’s no longer just about getting widgets from point A to point B. And as third-party logistics evolves into fourth- and fifth-party logistics, filling those vital roles with the right people becomes all the more important.
Logistics education in the U.S. has also changed over the past couple of decades, with a shift in course content from more traditional transportation and logistics topics, to a broader education in total supply chain management, demand forecasting and planning, and so on. The end result is that many recruiters in the U.S. logistics sector – in which there is a high degree of competition for jobs – seek candidates with at least an undergraduate certificate, if not a graduate degree, in logistics and supply chain management studies.
Harnessing East Asian Talent
East Asia is another region where logistics is successfully promoted as a viable education-to-career path, and there are good career opportunities for qualified people with national and especially international freight and logistics companies. Many countries in the region are net exporters. Dozens of respected academic and vocational training institutions across East Asia offer qualifications in logistics, supply chain management and related studies.
A good example of attitudes to logistics education and careers in East Asia is the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in Hong Kong (CILTHK), a local branch of the original UK-founded Chartered Institute. In common with other East Asia branches in China, Macao, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, CILTHK offers industry accreditation and continuous professional development opportunities for those working in logistics and transportation. CILTHK also runs an annual Case Competition in which teams of students compete to solve pressing logistics problems under a tight time constraint.
It’s difficult to understand exactly why the UK lags these other parts of the world in logistics education and career promotion, although it is very likely symptomatic of a much wider issue in British education and career guidance; other key industries in the UK such as healthcare, IT and financial technology report similar skills gaps, with many crucial positions being filled by more qualified overseas applicants.
It would seem that rigorous and practical academic and vocational training are the keys to turning this around. Hemisphere Freight Services has been working with Will Thomas of Suffolk Business School at the University of Suffolk on developing a training scheme for people entering supervisory and management jobs in logistics, ports and shipping, providing a broad base of skills including project management, finance, strategy formulation and marketing.
If the UK logistics industry is serious about helping to build the supply to meet the demand for staff, then we urge similar collaborations between employers and educational bodies, from school age and up, as a core part of the solution.
Louis Perrin is director of Hemisphere Freight Services, a UK-based company operating internationally in the project cargo sector.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
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