Do we want craft or just graft? : Mick Jackson

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As the new year finds this column in a title called Logistics Manager and in a section devoted to professional development, it seems appropriate to discuss management in logistics. So is management an art or a science? In some teams, it’s more than art, it borders on farce! This column has discussed management issues in the past, particularly how we can make sure we fish from the well stocked pool of talent that works as operatives in the industry.

The Professional Development Stairway is a device aimed at making it easier and more likely for people to cross the great divide between the shop floor and management but what about when they get there.

Research and industry consultation at Skills for Logistics has revealed that in the ‘operative zone’ of The Professional Development Stairway, current qualifications and training programmes focus too much on craft skills and not enough on core skills such as customer service and communications. This omission goes a long way to explaining why there are not enough people moving from the shop floor into management.

Once somebody enters the management zone on The Professional Development Stairway, we then react to this by mainly throwing core skills training at them.

This is ‘supplemented’ by the misleadingly titled Certificate of Professional Competence which fills people with a number of compliance facts but leaves them woefully short of the craft or technical skills needed to run logistics operations.

An indication of this shortfall is the fact that I could be a good generic manager with excellent customer service skills and good interpersonal and communication skills. But if I do not know how to discipline an errant driver or how to recruit people, or how to pick the right KPIs and then monitor them, am I an effective manager? I would argue I am not.

We believe that at every operational management level up to general manager in The Professional Development Stairway, there is a need to focus on both generic core skills and the detailed technical craft skills required to manage. Sure, some of these are met by professional institute qualifications but are they sufficiently broken down to the levels between supervisor (step 6 on The Professional Development Stairway) and the top operational management level.

Again, I would argue that too often they are not. Instead, we rely on a combination of generic training and ‘sitting with Nellie’ which simply passes on Nellie’s habits..

The situation is complicated by the operational differences between large and small companies. In a large 3PL, an operational manager can call upon specialist internal expertise in the fields of business development, solutions management, project management, information management and HR support. In a smaller operation, the line manager has to provide all of that as well as getting the goods out/through.

How to identify and develop the management craft skills and how to get the right balance between large and small operations is something that is testing the grey matter in Skills for Logistics during the first quarter of 2006. If you have views or experience that can help us in that, please get in touch at

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