The more progressive companies in the logistics industry are realising that they need to be people focused to gain competitive advantage as the sector is now under pressure to raise professional standards, according to a new report “Assessment of Skills and Training Provision in Transport and Logistics”, by Frank Peck and Keith Jackson of Cumbria University.
Sector skills councils, such as Skills for Logistics SfL), have been charged with bringing the industry up to speed. SfL is developing a professional development stairway to provide a framework for education and training throughout an individual’s career. SfL is also charged with helping the sector hit the government’s target of reducing the number of people working in logistics without qualifications by 2010.
But it’s just as important for employers to recognise the need to invest in their people.
In such a competitive and time driven industry, improving management efficiency is sure to improve productivity. Senior managers within logistics companies have to coordinate various different sections – from drivers and warehouse workers, to accountancy and customer service. This means having good leadership and social skills.
The Cumbria report highlights a lack of coordination between organisations involved in training such as universities, training providers and industry bodies.
However, there are exceptions to the rule such as logistics service provider Kuehne + Nagel, which is one of the leaders in promoting professional development within the industry.
It is now an approved Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport training centre with the ability to train to Diploma level in logistics. It is the only logistics service provider to hold such an accreditation. With around 80 locations and more than 10,000 employees in the UK and Ireland, placements are available nationwide.
In 2001, human resources manager Katie Herdman implemented an in-house apprenticeship scheme with the aim to attract more young people into the industry. The programme stretches across all the company’s business fields, with each student undertaking a series of placements in areas such as airfreight seafreight, overland, contract logistics, finance, and marketing.
On completion of the programme the successful trainees are awarded a diploma, and perhaps more importantly, are guaranteed a job in the company. Herdman says the idea is to try to match the students’ aspirations with what’s on offer at the company.
The course is a popular one, and the company now takes on 10 to 15 apprentices a year. It begins in October and lasts two years for graduates, and three years for non-graduates.
New employees automatically receive a four-day induction course prior to starting in a position at Kuehne + Nagel. These inductions give new recruits the opportunity to get to grips with what the company does.
Head of learning and development, Colin Osborne, says it’s a very successful part of the company’s training programmes, and boosts the confidence of workers, which reflects in their work.
He says the “pay back from training is ten fold”, and that investing in training has improved the company’s productivity, and the overall confidence of its workers. It’s also worthwhile doing as it minimises staff turnover and the cost of recruitment.
The industry has experienced disadvantages because of the way logistics businesses operate as departments within other businesses, according to the Cumbria report. This means that the scale of their activities tends to be invisible to the government and the general public.
The government only provides financial support to companies willing to invest in publicly recognised qualifications such as NVQs. If enough companies opt for these types of qualifications, the sector can then receive its share of public investment which, at the moment, it doesn’t.
Fortunately, for a company of Kuehne + Nagel’s size, this isn’t a major issue, with virtually all funding for its programmes coming from the company’s own pockets. But Herdman says the fact that the government only provides funding for companies that have adopted the national training framework is “very frustrating”.
From a financial point of view, adopting the NVQ framework would be beneficial. But often programmes are too generic, and not always relevant enough to the industry. “NVQs are not specific enough,” says Herdman, “they only deal with a certain side of what we do.” For Kuehne + Nagel, it’s important that courses are tailored to meet the needs of the company.
The company has formed partnerships with several Universities in the UK, including Cranfield, and also several in Europe.
It is also taking proactive steps to promote the industry to young people. “There are a lot of competent people out there we’re missing out on because of this false perception,” says Herdman.
Students need to be made more aware of logistics as a viable career option. “The next step would be for the government to introduce A-levels and GCSEs in logistics,” she says.
Colin Osborne is head of learning and development for Kuehne + Nagel North West Europe. He has worked for the company for five years, predominantly as human resources manager for South Africa and the Sub-Saharan African region. Prior to working at Kuehne + Nagel, he held positions in the manufacturing sector in South Africa, focusing on learning and development, performance management and industrial relations. He has held his current role for five months.