Where are the logisticians?

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Some of you may be aware that earlier this month Skills for Logistics was awarded £3.95m of funding for the next two year period. Next month I will take some time explaining what we are proposing to do with it, but this month I wanted to look in broad terms at one of the issues underpinning our thinking.

Space matters in our sector. How a political or economic area is organised is one of the issues that most governments wrestle with. And some cynics might suggest that few ever get it right.

The UK of course has done its own share of reorganisation in recent years. There was the very New Labour notion of elected regional assemblies which seemed to wither and die in the North East. We now have devolved administrations and governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We used to have regional development agencies in England. But now we don’t. Seemingly as a replacement, we’re in the process of developing a network of Local Employer Partnerships, many of you will be involved in them or at least will have been approached to join them. In the skills world, geography used to really matter. Any employer who worked with the former Learning and Skills Council knew that which region you had your address in really made a difference.

But in the logistics sector, regions didn’t really work. Indeed, on reflection, how many sectors really benefitted from a regional approach to skills? To my mind, it was almost impossible to work with colleagues to establish an effective regional skills strategy for the East of England which adequately supported the Port of Tilbury, the farmers of East Anglia, the high tech industries around Cambridge and the logistics employers in the area. As a result, sometimes the logistics sector got ignored by the skills world. We were too disparate and too diluted to really punch our weight. Those of us in the sector know the perception issues we face. So none of us were surprised. Disappointed, yes, but surprised, no.

While regions didn’t work for the sector, it is undeniable that geography matters in our sector. We move things from A to B, and sometimes X, Y and Z. We store things, which of course takes space. Our argument isn’t that that “spatial” doesn’t matter in our sector. Actually, it’s quite the contrary. But truthfully, a bland thoughtless translation of spatial into regions isn’t helpful.

In our recent research work, the Intelligence Team at Skills for Logistics has been looking at the hotspots of logistics activity. We know that logistics happens everywhere, but we wanted to know where it was based. In a world where every company or organisation is looking to maximise so-called “bang for buck”, we have been actively looking at how we can engage with the key locations in our sector. How could we best focus our activity?

In essence, we have been looking to ascertain where our employers are. Do they cluster in the same places? If so, where? What about our two million employees? Is there any pattern to where they live?

Work coming out of Herriot Watt powerfully illustrates where logistics employers are located. Analysis highlights a “Y” shaped distribution. Beginning at London and going north, employers follow the progress of the M1 before there is a branching off between Northampton and Coventry. The upper part of the “Y” then follows the M6 in the west and the M1 in the east. Three further clusters exist, firstly between Bristol and Cardiff, secondly around Newcastle and thirdly between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

This information may have implications for skills policy and activity. Of course logistics is important across the country, but to target the maximum number of employers for the minimum amount of investment, government and its agencies may consider focusing initial efforts on the areas outlined above.

Key to the work we proposed to our regulator, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills as well as the various interested government departments was that we were going to work in a focused way through these “hotspots”. We’re going to link local communities to their logistics employers. So our sector will get first pick at the new crop of talent coming through colleges and schools. Or at those who are returning to work from a break. Or those who are seeking a change of career direction.

Working together, we can take ownership of the skills agenda, making it less about hoops to jump through, and finally about something that supports competitiveness and economic performance. From April we’ll be looking to build up these hotspots, but please get involved with us now and we’ll explain in more depth what it means for you. Likewise, if you think our analysis is missing something please let me know.

[asset_ref id=”1393″]  Dr Mick Jackson is chief executive of Skills for Logistics.

Logistics Manager, January 2012

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