Mick Jackson

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It’s time to develop a local engagement toolkit for logistics

In my last column I spelt out my view that the logistics sector not only underpins every part of the global economy, but it is one of the UK’s few hopes of being able to attract foreign direct investment into the UK in an era where it is palpably cheaper to mass manufacture elsewhere in the world. As Uri Dadush, World Bank trade director has remarked: “As a main driver of competitiveness, logistics can make you or break you as a country in today’s globalised world”. His words will be read and more than likely heeded in our competitor nations (effectively the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, Denmark and – favourite because of the “safe” nature of its Franc – Switzerland).

So, if the European and global arenas are the playing fields on which logistics either directly or indirectly plays, what about its local roots? We are still a sector which is heavily reliant on its human resource at all levels. In the main, we are a sector which tends to cluster around distribution parks, large or small, making best use of whatever is offered in terms of physical road connections, etc.

Recalling my student days (which I can with remarkable clarity: it’s why I’m standing with the fridge door open I forget) my geography studies looked at towns, cities, shopping centres, football stadia, etc. in terms of their catchment area – the zone or sub-region over which they act as a magnet – attracting people to the functions they provide.

Every logistics facility has a catchment area in terms of the people employed there. They will travel to work to the facility – large or small – from somewhere inside that zone. Of particular interest to me is the other things that are also in that zone. They include the schools and colleges attended by the children of our workforce. They may include local universities. They will most certainly include a number of people who are unemployed, coming off incapacity benefit, maybe leaving the military or even ex-offenders.

The catchment area is also likely to include a number of what I would term “the under-employed”. Hardly a week goes by without a retailer, a fast food outlet or a hotel chain announcing the opening of “x” new facilities trumpeting the creation of “y” new jobs. Great that jobs are being created but in the main they tend to be part-time roles. Again that’s great if it’s what you want but not if that’s all you can get. Logistics offers all these people in the list above an opportunity for both a substantial full time job and a worthwhile career.

However, the catchment area is actually a twin edged sword. On the one hand it provides a potentially strong pool of new people to attract into logistics. On the other hand I’ve dredged up another gem from undergraduate economic geography the intervening opportunities model. This states that if there is an equally attractive shopping centre (or job prospect) between an individual and your centre, he/she will go there instead. If there’s a more attractive option and it’s further away than yours they will still use that one rather than yours.

Before I push this analogy too far, it’s clear that within the catchment area of your company you will have to compete for new talent with other organisations in other sectors who may be offering what is perceived to be more attractive options for jobs and careers. Logistics starts at a disadvantage in overcoming intervening opportunities because most people don’t even know about it and those that do often see it as a job of last resort. If we are to compete effectively for new talent locally, we need to band together and make the most of our catchment areas.

We could start with the schools and colleges. Every logistics facility of any size has a number of schools and even colleges within its catchment area. At Skills for Logistics, we have developed “Delivering your future” as a well-regarded tool and web site for showing young aspiring entrants to logistics just what is on offer. FTA have also produced the excellent “Love Logistics” initiative to showcase the sector. What we have to do now, however, is get it out there. We plan to work with FTA and CILT and combine “Delivering your future” and “Love Logistics” into a toolkit to enable employers to carry the message out to their catchment areas and engage schools, colleges and other institutions to make sure that logistics is seen as the career of choice.

Of course some larger employers are already engaging with local schools and others, but in their name only, and it just serves to dilute the message of the profession if we all go out with different approaches. So let’s find a way to come together in each logistics cluster and work the catchment area together to make sure that logistics is an intervening opportunity in the local jobs markets not an “intervened” and therefore lost opportunity.

l If you would like to be involved in developing the local engagement toolkit, please contact mick.jackson@skillsforlogistics.org.

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