The F Word: Mick Jackson

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First the bad news. Our bid to have a national skills academy for logistics recognised by the government fell at the last hurdle as we came a “very close fifth” with the first four only awarded the status. It’s little consolation, but we fight on.

What particularly impressed me was the momentum we gained in a very short time through our three lead employers (Unipart Logistics, Port of Tilbury and Palletline Logistics) and a whole host of other supporting companies from across the sector. There is a genuine feeling of frustration to have got so close to something that will benefit all companies across the logistics sector but will particularly benefit the smaller and medium enterprises (SMEs) which make up the majority.

As I write, the three companies concerned have written to the new skills minister, Lord Young, to stress the importance of the logistics academy bid and requested that we be allowed to move forward to the next (business planning) stage without having to repeat the bid process next year.

If we don’t get a change of heart, that group of employers is carefully considering going ahead anyway on the basis that we do not need vast sums of capital from the government as we are not building a massive edifice. What we do need is some seed-corn funding and the stamp of approval which will then open doors for the regional development agencies around the country to participate in the ventures.

A national skills academy will considerably improve access to training and development for companies in every region in England, especially those companies who do not have the luxury of in-house training, development and even HR functions. The one-stop-shop approach in each regional academy will hold the hands of any company who wants to investigate training for their employees and guide them through what is still a horrendous maze of bureaucracy.

Ironically, this is where developments two and three kick in. Two has just been announced by John Denham, secretary of state for the department of innovation, universities and skills, as part of the knee jerk reaction to the global financial crisis and concerns £350m being made available to SMEs.

Small businesses are an important engine of our economy and we must make sure that we support them during tough economic times. We are overhauling the training system to make sure that they can get help with training their staff with the very minimum of bureaucracy. We know that firms which invest in skills do better than those that don’t, which is why we will be urging small businesses to take up this offer from government. Sounds like a close fit to our academy proposal.

Development three comes from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills who are our regulator. They are currently consulting on the “Simplification of Skills in England” to advise the government on simplification of the post-compulsory skills system for employers.

However, unlike these two government initiatives, the logistics academy bid recognises that it is not just a question of ploughing through the gobbledegook, it is then making sure that the product is what you want (and need!) rather than being what fits the bill for the provider and the funder. The bid also recognises that even then, the journey through the maze is not complete because these experiences for both the employer and the employee should not be a series of one-off staccato training initiatives but a planned series of sessions that develop the individual concerned over time. This can only be managed through a system of customer relationship management, something that most logistics companies take for granted when managing their own customers but seldom seem to demand from the suppliers of their training and development.

So, all of this is contained within the national skills academy for logistics proposal. One way or another, that will come to fruition over the next few years. It would be nice if it could come together as part of a clear piece of joined up thinking on behalf of the government but somehow I have my doubts.

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