Shine a light on development

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Logistics offers young people greater opportunities than most other sectors

Amazon’s warehouses were a recurrent focus of attention from the mainstream media during 2013, culminating in an edition of BBC’s Panorama in November, in which an undercover reporter signed on as a seasonal temp to reveal how the online retail giant’s staff pick customer orders.

Putting to one side the issues raised by the programme, which Amazon will no doubt address, if the result of this attention creates negative perceptions of working in a warehouse, which then puts people off taking this step into our industry, it will be disappointing for a sector that needs to attract almost 600,000 people by 2020. It will also let down individuals by denying them the opportunity to embark on the kind of fulfilling career that might not be open to them elsewhere.

In directing its scrutiny towards the demands of working in a huge, high intensity e-fulfilment warehouse, the mainstream media misses something tremendously important that we want to happen to people: development. The kind of job depicted in the programme is hard work but it can also be a stepping-stone to a fulfilling career.

This is because working in warehouses offers development potential many other sectors and jobs cannot reach. Jobs of a comparable level in other sectors, such as catering and hospitality, will entice recruits with an immediate advantage of a slightly higher wage but those jobs will often be part time and have low ceilings in terms of development.

Many of today’s top logistics directors are quick to tell you how they started out in the warehouse and look back at it as positive experience. The warehouse is an environment where those who show leadership credentials, even if they are working as temps, will soon get spotted and encouraged because the logistics sector as a whole is more focused than ever on developing talent.

It is important that people getting a job in a warehouse, whether it’s an e-fulfilment centre serving online shoppers or a traditional DC, can see the career development opportunities beyond the job. It is also vital for the industry to have a way in which it can demonstrate these career development possibilities.

Several years ago, SfL designed the Professional Development Stairway (PDS) to provide a career progression route – something that the logistics sector had historically lacked. This month will see the launch of a refreshed stairway that will act as a development tool for those interested in pursuing a career in the sector. There are fewer stairs – the levels of the stairway have been reduced to six – and the number of roles has been increased to cover the diversity and exciting opportunities within the sector, which will capture the attention of young people.

It is important that we relay the message that logistics offers greater variety and more opportunity than any other sector to all young people – particularly those who are at that age where they are making career decisions. The best way we can do this is by matching individuals’ values with what might be an attractive role, using trigger questions such as: “Ever thought about helping people in need or ever considered a career in humanitarian logistics?” Developing the new PDS to do this and putting it in to an App format that can be easily viewed and navigated on any mobile device will further appeal to the young.

SfL has also been working with companies that lack their own career development paths to develop job role profiles. We are using National Occupational Standards (NOS) as the main building blocks and then expanding them into an internal performance management system. In addition these newly established role profiles can be used to create a company specific stairway, something that can be used for recruitment, to attract people into the organisation by highlighting career opportunities or to support retention through a more structured training, development and reward/recognition programme.

‘Talent Management’ is a fashionable term but it can only work if companies have this type of system in place. By using NOS we can fast track implementation as well as linking it closely to objectives, KPIs and direct business performance outputs.

A second app developed by SfL, called Logistics HR, is aimed at HR and operational managers. This will provide a complete learning resource for showing how to implement a NOS-based performance management system and also provide additional document resources that can be used when rolling it out across the business. The supporting web site will also provide detailed case studies on the work completed with the pilot companies and what they have achieved by implementing it. The two new apps will be available from mid-January and we trust that 2014 will develop into a happy and fulfilling new year!

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