There is an oft-reported phenomenon in all developed societies around the world, known as the Urban Myth, which involves somebody knowing somebody who was acquainted to somebody who knew of someone who experienced a dire event, normally involving a deserted multi-storey car park and a severed head.
The trouble with myths is that they feed off themselves, become self-perpetuating and become considered as “facts”. That is the case with the old chestnut that the government doesn’t fund training for logistics employees.
The origins of “the Logistics Myth” is that, rightly or wrongly, governments refuse to fund driver training. I happen to believe it is wrong and that licence acquisition should be funded when part of a vocational package and we will be lobbying for that but that’s a subject for another day.
In columns earlier this year, I introduced the government’s Leitch Report on skills and the Train to Gain initiative that will channel the £290 million of funding necessary in England to bring the logistics sector just to first base by 2010.
So, the will is there from the government, the money is there, the delivery channel through Train to Gain is there and a range of qualifications is there. In some parts of England, quality training provision may be thin on the ground but we are working on that.
What is missing is the demand from employers. Research suggests that there are more than 400,000 employees working in the logistics sector without qualifications. It also suggests that there are 560,000 employees lacking functional numeracy and 400,000 lacking functional literacy. This, by the way is in a sector where customer service demands accuracy and Health & Safety compliance requires the ability to read procedure documents.
Yet, by and large we continue to be in denial of any need to put things right. Will it take a major incident in a large depot where the Health & Safety manual is found to be written to a level of literacy higher than the employees on the shop floor possess and the prosecutions that would result before we are shocked into action?
Some beacon organisations such as DHL Hubs & Gateways and Royal Mail are tackling basic skills and the adoption of public qualifications and are starting to achieve staggering benefits from increased retention, decreased absences and improved productivity. These companies are taking three and more percentage points off their wage bill in a sustained fashion.
Unsurprisingly, they find they are opening doors for some of their employees that were just not there before. In some areas of the country, this increased retention and loyalty may literally be the saving grace for companies struggling to hang on to employees in the face of offers from competitors.
But, like most things that are good for you, it involves a bit of hard work and focused attention to put some of these things right. Where we can help we will but the onus has to be on the employers to accept the need for and the presence of public qualifications such as NVQs.
Everything is in place for the logistics sector to ‘up its game’. Everything that is except the will on the part of employers. If we don’t grab the opportunity now as a sector, we will simply perpetuate the myth-understanding.
You can find out more about the work of Skills for Logistics at: www.skillsforlogistics.org