Do footprints lead the way to a more certain future? Mick Jackson

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It is difficult to engage employers in a skills development discussion when their sole focus is either on the survival of their company or on survival of their job, or both. However, as I keep on saying, now is precisely the time to give skills development some careful thought.

As trading becomes more and more difficult, then anything that can improve efficiency, improve service and reduce costs has to be considered. Fuel costs have stabilised of late but can we really predict that to continue? Once the first set of dust has settled, both oil producers and HMG will take their penn’orth to ensure that the fuel price takes its perennial place near the top of the list that keeps logistics managers awake at night.

At the time of writing there are some interesting signs that the government in Westminster is starting to look at combining two other contemporary issues that also feature in the top few for insomniac supply chain professionals: skills and climate change. The Department for Transport consulted with managers in the industry during 2008 and has recently produced its Delivering A Sustainable Transport System: The Logistics Perspective. Skills in general featured strongly as an issue from that consultation and the document pledges that: “The Department intends to play a greater leadership role on skills issues, supporting Skills for Logistics and industry in developing a clearer career path for, and greater skills within, the sector.”

That DfT document highlights five high-level goals for the Department, the first of which: “…to support national economic competitiveness and growth, by delivering reliable and efficient transport networks” closely aligns with the Skills for Logistics mission.

Interestingly, the second DfT goal concerns emissions and tackling climate change.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that these two goals actually complement each other rather than being separate issues.

There is some evidence now of companies moving into the second phase of their “carbon footprint management approach”. Typically, the initial impetus comes from a corporate social responsibility angle, especially for the larger players, as they need to be seen to be heeding the climate change warnings.

Increasingly however, the information generated by analysing the carbon footprint is opening eyes corporately to operating costs in a different way. As with everything, awareness is the first and essential stage preceding effective action. Whether it’s an understanding of the carbon footprint implications of the type of lighting used in cold stores, or realisation of the effects of heat loss in warehouses, the carbon management approach is rapidly becoming embedded in the normal operational management of thought-leading logistics companies.

By the time you read this, the government should be ready to announce initiatives to link skills development with carbon management as a means to help companies manage in the recession.

The Department for Transport and Skills for Logistics are already in the vanguard of this. Schemes such as SAFED have a clear effect on improving fuel efficiency as do other Freight Best Practice initiatives. The challenge going forward is to identify the other management skills that will help companies to open their eyes to the benefits of managing their carbon efficiently.

These will include the skills to identify opportunities, analyse the situation and then see through the changes necessary to deliver that “tipping point” where the carbon management becomes synonymous with operations management.

As is often the case with skills development, it begins with awareness. Those that open their eyes will manage their way out of the trough and be better placed to take advantage of the upturn. Those who know better and refuse to listen…

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