We’re not just short of people with skills, but are short of people with the right skills.

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We must work harder to attract new blood into logistics – make it appear to the young as the attractive, interesting, important profession that it is. But we need to develop ‘supply chain thinking’ in all those who work in logistics, be they a chief executive of a retailer or manufacturer, a warehouse, or transport manager. I define the term ‘logistics’ in three ways: logistics activities covered by the ‘function’; the ‘sector’, those companies that provide logistics services; and the ‘management of the supply chain’. It is the latter that is the most powerful. This is where our skill development should focus, because we will embrace the needs stemming from the first two definitions but also tackle the wider challenges of raising the profile and skill-set of logistics across the whole value chain, thereby improving the performance of all value chain players and of the economy on which we all operate.

The difference in skill requirements in today’s highly competitive fast-changing world is that we need to have visibility and control of our supply chain in order to compete. Suppliers need to think upstream about supply and be driven by the end customer. Retailers need to satisfy their customers but need to think ‘supply’ to achieve this. It is also operational, because the end-to-end supply chain concept has to work. This is all about getting supply chain thinking and skill-sets into every level of management and supervision into every business function in every player in the value chain. If these skill shortages go unchecked, we just won’t be able to cut it.

Obstacles to progress used to be about technology. The biggest barrier now is the availability of appropriate people skills. The T-shaped person, as I call them, has an upright ‘I’ skill-base or expertise in their chosen speciality. The cross-bar on the T is about understanding the supply chain, and having the skills to get functions within the organisation, and business across the end-end supply chain, to work together. What’s now important is to turn all our managers and directors into T-shaped people and develop the supply chain skills across the value chain. Act production, act brand management, act procurement, act selling but think supply chain.

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