Thursday 27th Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

More than a set of tyres: Mick Jackson

I am privileged to have worked in the logistics sector for many years. While I don’t quite go back to the days when Pontius was a pilot, I have been fortunate enough to work with and for some real characters whose working lives dated back to the post-war days of nationalisation and beyond.

Many of them are still alive (some of them were never alive even then!). One strong theme that linked all of them was a benign obsession with trucks. It is still a theme that you find very strongly among the real industry characters that are behind the successful and established family hauliers.

I can recall many board meetings of British Road Services (BRS) and various divisions of the wider NFC where, as a young manager I was trying to get some point across in a presentation of great strategic corporate importance while their real interest was focused on the price of tyres.

While some of that can be consigned to the historical musing of an old lag, I have recently had cause to question whether that obsession still exists and in fact whether it is even stronger in its way than it was back then.

A total of 2.3 million people work in the logistics sector in the UK, making it the fifth largest sector (annual turnover £75 billion) in the fifth largest economy in the world. In transport terms, despite considerable growth from the railways, road is still by a long way the predominant mode, not only in the UK but across Europe.

However, even given that, LGV drivers still only account for around 400,000 of the 2.3 million or less than 20 per cent. As we approach the advent of the Driver CPC, the obsession with trucks is in danger of being reinforced by a similar over-focus on the people that drive them.

This relative obsession could well be made worse by the increasing feeling around the piece that the relief offered to the driver shortage problem by the influx of drivers from the accession states is starting to turn as those drivers return home to take advantage of improving wages there.

I recently gave a keynote presentation at a conference organised by RoSPA and the HSE to launch their Workplace Transport Safety Route Map. This has clear potential links in with the periodic training element of the Driver CPC.

Preparation of that presentation gave me cause to think about the fact that the advent of the Driver CPC is forcing the industry to replay the road transport obsession as we turn our thoughts to providing the one day per year periodic training demanded by the directive.

That begs the question: what about the other 83 per cent of the logistics workforce? Veteran readers of this column will be well aware of our own obsession at Skills for Logistics with the need for companies to systematically develop the skills of their employees and bring them on in their craft. For drivers that fall within the Driver CPC regulation, some of that development can be provided through the periodic training. However, should we not apply that continuous professional development to all our employees – not because we have to by law but because we want to as a hard-nosed business decision?

Health & safety is a big issue in logistics and not just directly in the transport workplace. Let’s use the lessons from the Driver CPC and the HSE Route Map to start to get to grips with relevant periodic training for all logistics employees. One thing is for sure, whether we are small hauliers or large 3PLs if we are serious about not being treated as a commodity purchase but as a valued-added business function, we have to develop our people accordingly and that means continuously topping up their skills and capabilities.

Before I am accused of being naïve or even subversive in suggesting something that costs money and disruption, the business benefits of systematically training and upskilling the workforce are well documented and indisputable, but still we largely only react when we have to because of government directives.

At the end of the day, your staff cost a lot more than a set of tyres and looking after them may just get more ‘mileage’ out of them.