‘Image’ is one of those words that seems to have changed its meaning over the past few years, or at least got a new focus in everyday language in the 21st century.
When I started work in logistics, probably the only people who worried themselves about images were amateur photographers who developed their own shots and people who studied shrouds from Turin looking for divine inspiration.
These days, even very ordinary footballers employ agents to discuss their image rights before they even discuss their, clearly inadequate annual salaries! People can have images and companies can have images. Witness the clever environmentally slanted image advertising campaigns employed some years ago by leading oil companies. Corporate identity and its associated image is an important component of balance sheets these days.
But what about an industry as a whole? What makes up the image for an industry? How important is it, who should take responsibility for it and how do we change it for the better?
These are key concerns for the logistics industry because, all of our extensive research over the past 12 months points up logistics as the ‘ugly duckling’ of UK industry. Does it matter if our industry has a bad image? You bet it does. Our research also shows that we have skills shortages in many areas, skills gaps in others, all of which point to the fact that we are not bringing the right people into the industry at the right rate.
What do we do about it? That’s a much more difficult question. Footballers know exactly what they need to do to maximise their image (although that seems to have passed by the players in my team!). Improving the image of a whole industry sector is another matter altogether and one which, sadly cannot be changed overnight.
We’ve made a big step forward with the introduction of the Professional Development Stairway. For too long, career progression opportunities in the logistics industry have been a well kept secret. A recurring theme in this column is the need to move into Continuous Professional Development for all our employees, not just senior management.
Sure attention needs to be given to pay rates and terms and conditions but that is not everything. Whether a driver or a warehouse manager, every employee needs to feel he or she is carrying out an important job for which they have been given the right personal and skills development.
If we can put these into place, in an industry which, on the whole does not give them the attention they need, we have a sound foundation on which to start to change the image. Note I think this foundation is just the start, not the cure.
If we can show the industry to be a good place to work, we can then start to promote its importance, its challenges, its variability and its sheer excitement to everybody, especially in schools and colleges. How many of your lessons at school were about logistics? How many projects, visits and school trips were devoted to logistics? Yet how many of the staples of life that surround you need logistics?
If we can get the basic foundation of a good career in place we can then start to use that to improve the image for the sector and get the right people in to a career that they will enjoy.