A time to skill

LinkedIn +

Training is an integral part of any skills-led job, so why do some companies still not give it the emphasis it needs? Lucy Tesseras reports

Time and again, companies report improvements in staff turnover after stepping up their training programmes – but there is still a vast number that either don’t realise the benefits or choose to ignore them.

At present 47 per cent of workers within the industry are not trained to Level 2 standard, the equivalent of five GCSEs, meaning in an industry that employs 2.3 million people more than one million are not sufficiently educated, something the UK government is keen to remedy.

Dr Mick Jackson, who has recently been confirmed as chief executive of Skills for Logistics, suggests that many employers are scared of offering training in case staff use the skills they acquire to get a job elsewhere.

“We work in an industry that is absolutely based on high levels of accuracy,” says Jackson. “When running an operation such as home delivery the additional cost of having to right a wrong, if for example a parcel is delivered to the wrong place, at the wrong time, or the product itself is incorrect, is more than double the original cost, so the repercussions could be huge.”

Gate to Great

Unipart Technology Logistics offers employees a robust training and development programme as part of its Unipart Way philosophy. This includes the Gate to Great initiative which offers training from a basic awareness level to a point where staff are able to coach others.

The company’s training and development manager in Nuneaton says: “UTL’s turnover rate averaged one per cent in the last 12 months which is significantly below industry standard, exemplifying that investment in people leads to an engaged, empowered and enlightened workforce, willing to commit their time and energy to pursuing personal and organisational goals.”

FedEx Express also found the turnover rate improved after upping its training options. “People are more likely to stay with a company that is prepared to invest in them,” says Ken Bromage, managing director, operations, UK Gateways and GTS.

Statistics show that more than 330,000 logistics employees lack basic reading skills and 450,000 do not have basic number skills, an increasing concern as supply chains become reliant on more sophisticated technologies.

According to Dr Tim Butcher of Hull University Business School, supply chain workers of 20 years from now will need to be much more formally educated to keep up with evolving logistics technologies.

“We need to invest in people today. Keeping workers upskilled is fundamental if they are going to be able to handle the supply chains of tomorrow. Logistics is no longer just about loading a truck or physical handling. There is now a real need for information handling, information processing and information interpreting skills.”

Other parts of the industry are evolving too. From 10th September 2009 all new LGV drivers will need to have a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) in addition to their LGV driving licence and will have to undertake periodic training totalling 35 hours over five years. All existing drivers will also have to acquire the necessary 35 hours of training between 2009 and 2014 to qualify.

Jackson says companies shouldn’t see the required training as a separate entity to vocational training as the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. “Companies need to take training staff for the Driver CPC very seriously,” he says.

Learning facilities such as City & Guilds have created new qualifications to incorporate the requirements of the Driver CPC. Martyn Ramsey, business support manager for logistics at City & Guilds, says: “With all the challenges a modern logistics organisation faces, it is more important than ever to ensure training is relevant and comprehensive without disrupting day-to-day working. By designing qualifications alongside the Driver CPC Periodic Training requirements, City & Guilds can ensure that time off the road is minimised while still providing a high quality nationally-recognised certificate to drivers throughout the UK.”

Along with improving road safety and creating savings for the industry the government hopes the new directive will help towards improving the professional image of the industry and therefore attract more young people.

Despite being the fifth largest industry in the UK, Butcher says logistics lags behind most professions as it is often seen as the “dirty end of business” and not something people automatically think of when planning a career.

“School leavers don’t realise logistics is a viable career option, if they are aware of it at all. We need to make a change so that young people choose to go into the industry rather than fall into it.”

DHL Express recently launched an initiative in conjunction with The Prince’s Trust, aimed at encouraging young people and showing them what a career in logistics has to offer. The three-week Get Into Customer Services programme took place through DHL East Midlands and provided eight 16 – 25 year olds with theoretical and practical training in computing, accounting and product lifecycle, as well as an overview of the express and customer services industries and the chance to be a courier for a day. After completing the course all were guaranteed an interview for positions within the East Midlands office.

Pay rise

However, it’s not always the lack of training offered by companies that is the issue. As part of its work towards achieving an Investor in People accreditation, McDonald’s UK distributor, Keystone Distribution, offered its warehouse workers NVQ training, but very few signed up despite the incentive of a pay rise.

Employee Mick Grodynski says: “I was the only warehouseman from my shift to apply for the NVQ training when it was introduced to my depot in August 2007. I found this disappointing so I applied to become the IIP ‘champion’ [a spokesperson for the training]. By simply explaining the training process using my first-hand experience, I have now signed up another six people on my shift.”

Grodynski has completed an HACCP training course, IOH safety course and NVQ Level 2, following which he was promoted to stand up shift manager. He is also in the process of doing Maths and English Level 1 and 2 which will enable him to take his NVQ Level 3.

According to Keystone’s HR director Claire Pearson, having an advocate for the course within the workforce has really helped to “break down some of the barriers and encourage more workers to take up the training opportunity”. It now has 100 workers who have either completed the NVQ Level 2 or are working towards the qualification.

To reach a wider audience and persuade the people who need it most how beneficial training can be, TDG’s HR director, development, Annette Capper says it is important to offer a flexible approach. The company recently launched the TDG Academy, an online blended learning programme offering more than 50 e-learning courses, which are supported by workshop style events for more in-depth training. As well as being a more cost and time effective way of teaching, Capper says the style of learning means employees are able to fit the course in around their existing schedule.


SfL is in the process of developing a National Skills Academy structure throughout England for the logistics sector as part of a wider government initiative to bridge the skills gap (see page 100). Other government-run initiatives include the apprenticeships programme designed to give relevant training to individuals starting out in their career; the Skills Pledge, which companies such as FedEx Express have signed to show their commitment to training; and Train to Gain which provides free, impartial advice to businesses, as well finding suitable training providers to meet their needs.

Small freight transport company The Courier Service, which has four employees alongside a fleet of dispatch drivers, turned to Train to Gain when its staff needed forklift training as a legal requirement. As a small enterprise, directors Denise Fresco and Mark Oliver were worried about the financial implications, but were able to find free training for their employees through Train to Gain. All have now completed the Forklift Competency Certificate and are in the process of taking their NVQ Level 2 in Specialist Plant and Machinery Operations.

The SfL Professional Development Stairway has offered companies a much needed structure when it comes to vocational training. Dr Tim Butcher says: “As a guide the SfL stairway is very good. It shows that even if you start out on the shop floor you can get to board level. It is a good start and very very necessary but more still needs to be done.”

However, some academics have said that while it offers a good framework and guide to what path a career in logistics could take, it doesn’t necessarily explain how to get from one stage to the next. Jackson, disagrees: “Each individual step on the stairway covers a number of jobs. Each stair gives a snapshot of what is needed at that level, the qualification needed to get to the next level and a programme that will get you there.”

Share this story: