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Much has changed since the days when logistics was a matter of loading and driving a truck. Technology advancement has spurred the sector on to the point where it now – along with supply chain management – has become the backbone that supports today’s global economy.

And with a new age of challenges comes a need for new skills. Employers who invest in skills development will fare better when dealing with recessionary trends and emerge better placed to compete when the economy revives, according to research carried out by Skills for Logistics.

In fact, Greg Cejer, operations director, SfL, says: “Employers who fail to invest in skills development are 2.5 times more likely to fail in a recessionary climate because those businesses do not have the skills and flexibility to compete successfully in hard times.”

The smartest companies will be geared towards continuous improvement, but this isn’t always the case – resistance to change remains a common theme, with many preferring to stick to traditional methods. The industry’s management training offering has come on leaps and bounds in the past few years. Logistics Academy North East – a one-stop shop for information on skills development and training for the logistics sector – is the latest initiative. It is aimed at providing access to industry-relevant training, advice and support for employers in the sector.

Andrew Tinkler, chief executive of Eddie Stobart, who launched the academy, says: “It is so important for the logistics industry to use the academy and to understand what it can achieve. Working in partnership, we can make UK logistics the strongest in Europe and even the world.”

Logistics and supply chain higher education may still be in the fledgling stages, having only been around 30 years, but the demand for it is rising steadily. In the three years University of Hull Logistics Institute has been running, programme director Dr Tim Butcher says the number of students has nearly tripled.

That said, a fraction of those students are from the UK. Dorothea Carvalho, director of professional development, CILT, says logistics and supply chain master degrees are very successful, but again, 75 to 85 per cent are from abroad. She reckons overseas governments give more priority to logistics, particularly China. The Chinese government has targeted logistics as a key area within its five-year plan. “China now dominates manufacturing, but her supply chains are not effective. Whereas our logistics is very efficient – in fact our companies are used as case studies overseas.”

In his research report “Logistics Worker Skills of the Information Age”, Butcher quotes Martin Christopher: “Whereas the logistics operations of the past were labour-intensive, today’s supply chains are information-intensive.” Butcher points to the institute’s Lean Supply Chain course – a one-day workshop – as being particularly popular.

The Logistics Management Development programme, another short course, is also popular. It is aimed at managers and directors involved in supply chain, logistics, transport, procurement and sourcing who wish to broaden and update their skills and knowledge. The three-day course covers industry’s most pressing issues – increased market volatility and complexity, and global competition.

Cranfield School of Management has just launched a Global Supply Chains programme, which began in February. Dr Martin Clarke, director of general management development at Cranfield, says the course will have a strong personal management theme as well as the analytical and conceptual side of supply chain management.

He stresses the importance of being able to step outside of one’s traditional area of expertise, or “taking out the silo approach”. The idea is to prevent “blinkered thinking”.

During a downturn the knee-jerk reaction is to cut training. But this may not be as cash-savvy as it first seems. It’s long been said that better skilled employees contribute to a company’s bottom line. Cejer says that: “A typical 50-employee company could save £165,000 every year by filling the gaps in its employees’ skills.”

And the government has pledged to help business in the tougher economic climate – it will channel £520 million into SfL’s Train to Gain programme this year.

Butcher says: “Hopefully putting training on hold is a thing of the past.” The shrewder companies will recognise the value of continuous training. Morrisons’ group human resources director has stated that priorities include recruiting staff to aid its store expansion programme, and further skills development.

“Leadership is important at all levels, not just at the top,” says Carvalho, “but individuals must be responsible for their own learning. They need to show that they’re constantly employable. A professional body can help with this – we’ll still be there when times aren’t so good – whereas an employer may not.”

Both the CILT and SfL have come up with ways to help individuals do this with the former’s CPD online service, and SfL’s Professional Development Stairway.

The services, which were both launched last year, offer a way for individuals to map their career progression in ways not possible before.


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