Professional Development: Mick Jackson

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Veterans of this column will be well aware that your correspondent is prone to lament the public image of the logistics profession. Part of the cause of this is the “big smelly trucks in front of me in the traffic queue” syndrome and it is partly because we are an unseen and unappreciated business function that only gets noticed when it fails.
However, another contributor to the demise is the confusion over what logistics is, what it covers and therefore what potential it offers as a career. Here we often don’t help ourselves very much, hence debates about where logistics starts and stops, where supply chain management starts and stops (let alone demand chains, value chains and value nets). And what about procurement – is it in or out of any of the previous definitions?
As a Sector Skills Council our raison d’etre has always been to identify and articulate the skills development demands of employers within the logistics sector. Making the skills system aware of these precise demands should allow the supply chain for training and development to become more demand-driven and less supply-led.
That’s the theory and I think we can claim some success in the way we are changing the shape and the content of vocational qualifications, making them more obviously responsive to demand through tailoring to meet requirements specific to individual supply chains and sub-sectors.
This really brings us right up against the definitions issue. In the preparation of our 2010-2013 Business Plan, we have consulted widely across what is a very diverse sector, during the last couple of months of 2009. I’d like to offer my thanks now to those who took the time to respond to the consultation because it is only through hearing from real people running real operations that we can focus our efforts effectively.
This is the third year we have carried out this detailed consultation to ensure that we continue to head in the right direction. Once again, employers across the sector are demanding qualifications and programmes that are more relevant and focused to their corporate and individual needs; information, assistance and intelligence on what is needed and how it can be achieved and demand delivery of training that is of higher quality and crucially, consistent around the UK to match the geographic spread of their operations.
We have been following this strategy for some years now and have concentrated much effort into remedial work on the infrastructure of training delivery to address the consistency issue and on the qualifications infrastructure to deliver relevance.
We’re using these infrastructure improvements to deliver relevant qualifications by working with employers and their trade bodies to produce qualifications and programmes closely tailored to the needs of office removals, news and magazine distribution and steel handling to name but a few.
The time is right to push on and produce more tailored offerings for important sub-sectors of the logistics industry but of course, this is where we come up against the definitions issue in a very real way.
As you may know, we principally divide the sector up in terms of skills areas: LGV driving, van driving, warehousing, removals, wholesaling, sea, air and rail terminals, 3PLs, mail services and waterways. We also take a supply chain view across 12 main supply chains where some or all of the skills areas are brought into play.
Having established the infrastructure to allow us to offer and deliver tailored solutions, we cannot now fall foul of “definitionitis” so the Skills for Logistics Board has decided to establish a UK-wide National Advisory Council of key employers that will provide SfL with top quality advice and guidance as to how and where we should direct our efforts at both the strategic and tactical levels.
We are keen for this National Council to represent all parts of the sector and crucially to represent every part of the UK, each of the four nations and each of the key regions within those nations.
Supplementing the current very effective network of employer forums around the UK which currently has around 500 members, the National Council will meet twice per year and provide a very clear and regular steer on how to best deploy what will be a limited resource for the sector.
We expect the first meeting of the Council to be in the spring. If you would like details of the new National Council or of the employer forums, please email me at

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