Only 11 per cent of the logistics workforce is under the age of 25. Conversely some 42 per cent are over the age of 45 with a large proportion of them over 55. This is a demographic time-bomb prImed to explode. That’s one million people destined to leave the industry over the next 15 years or so with precious few coming in to replace them.
As a sector, we are a bit like the MiIlwall fans of UK pic – noone likes us. Except we do care, we have to or the industry will grind to a halt or the price of the logistics function will have to increase sharply as we have to pay inflated wages due to skill shortages. The issue runs right across the Professional Development Stairway and affects all parts of the sector.
At the operative end of the Stairway, steps one to five, access to accession state labour and the current recession have combined to ease the immediate pressure on driver shortages (although there were signs in the early part of 2008 that the problem was about to return). However, in the medium and long term, as the economy comes out of recession, activity will increase and the demands on the logistics function will be immediate.
We know that’s the way it works. Logistics is the pivotal business function around which companies operate so when demand is switched on, it has to be met there and then -there is no chance of a time lag while we pur the necessary skills into place. Moving to the other end of the Stairway, steps nine to 12, there is real concern among senior supply chain professionals that we do not have the right skills coming through into senior management. We are running a joint workshop with the Logistics Directors Forum of CILT in April to explore what we can do to address the gaps.
There seem to me to be two answers to these conundrums bring more of the right people into the industry and develop those we have in a better way. either of these will work in isolation. The answer is not to simply bring in graduates with generic degrees because we know that there needs to be craft skills underpinning good logistics management.
Equally the answer is not to assume that a time-served ?employee will automatically pick up either the right craft skills or the more generic skills needed for general management. The answer has to be to develop both and the Developing Fields for that is the area of the Stairway not so far mentioned, steps six to eight, junior and middle management.
This is where we need to focus attention. That may be through graduates corning in on programmes leading them to a supervisory role at step six with them then fast-tracking through middle operational management. Equally, it may be spotting talent in the operative pool where the balance is towards experience and putting them through a similar programme. Whichever of those options is followed, we need to attract people into the sector in the first place or such efforts will come to nought.
In November 2008, we took part in the UK’s biggest careers event at the ExCel centre in London. As part of that, we carried out an image perception study among 14 to 19 year olds visiting our stand. The results of that are available at www.skillsforlogistics.org/en/index/reports/sector and make interesting, if worrying, reading.
Only 36 per cent of those questioned thought they understood the term “logistics” and only a third of them could give an accurate deflnition of the term. Eighty per cent of participants were able to name a company working in the sector but there was a corporate presence on our stand so that was artificially high.
What I thought was particularly revealing was the fact that the top three criteria quoted by the respondents as being of importance in making career decisions were:
• A job with a career path
• Ability to learn new skills
• Ability 10 problem-solve and make changes
These are three attributes that are bang in line with reality in the logistics sector so we should be pushing at an open door. Yet somehow I feel they don’t even know the door exists, let alone the fact that it opens easily.
Food for thought