I sentence you to community service

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Back at the beginning of February there was an excellent programme on BBC1 called “Crop to Shop” which gave the best support and publicity for logistics and supply chain management that I have ever seen on mainstream TV.

If we could arrange for that programme to be a compulsory part of the curriculum in both schools and universities, it would improve our careers information advice and guidance no end and be a useful recruiting sergeant for a career in the logistics profession.

It did not start well and I initially thought: “Here we go again, British farmer knocks food imports – food miles rules ok.” To be fair, that is how it started and the presenter confessed that to be his initial view. However, as he revealed the apparent folly of growing potatoes in the Egyptian desert using Scottish seed potatoes and sourcing green beans from Kenya his views changed as he also revealed the degree to which those communities relied on such trade for their existence.

So my liking for non-indigenous fruit and vegetables all year round and my laziness in wanting them prepared for me is actually a form of international aid supporting many communities around the world in a sort of balanced global market.

And all of this is served and indeed only made possible by the professionalism of a global logistics sector.

This got me thinking about logistics and communities, not on a global scale but locally within the UK. As we are fond of telling people, one in 12 working people in the UK work in logistics.

If these 2.3 million people are spread across the 646 parliamentary constituencies then each Westminster MP has, on average, more than 3,500 of his/her constituents working in our sector.

Given the way the sector tends to congregate geographically, we can probably identify 20 or 30 clusters around the UK where the figures are much higher.

On a smaller scale than that, every town of any size has a number of hauliers, probably some warehouses and certainly a number of removal companies. So here we have a situation where the logistics sector not only supports the local community by delivering its goods and services sourced from around the world (probably invisibly to most people) but also supports it very directly through employing a large proportion of its inhabitants.

The next question is: do we make enough of this community link? A community is made up of its people and its institutions, for example, schools and colleges.

It is relatively easy for a large company, through its corporate social responsibility approach, to devote some of its resource to community matters and many companies do exactly that in a very successful way.

It is more difficult for smaller companies for a host of reasons but nevertheless, I know of a number who are central to the community they serve.

My point in this column really is how can we, through collective and collaborative action, ensure that we systematically and consistently maximise the positive impact that the logistics sector can have on its local community?

One way is to work together to present a common face for logistics to schools and colleges within the local community cluster. Should this be led by the larger players? Can this be achieved or do we all feel that it has to have “our own brand” up front on any initiative?

We are working with BAR, FTA, RHA and CILT to develop a single brand for logistics in the mind of the public. The obvious place to start this is in the local community and present a common view on the potential that logistics offers as a career within schools and colleges.

We have just had National Apprenticeship Week and this is very much the sign of where publicly funded training is going. The future is in apprentices – in more ways than one.

What better way is there to share and exploit that future than to work together and offer each community a number of logistics apprenticeships to be served in companies within that community in the sector that supports that community in every sense.

Find out more at: www.skillsforlogistics.org

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