Licence to skill

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Research undertaken by Skills for Logistics shows that there are more than 400,000 employees working in the logistics sector without qualifications. 560,000 lack functional numeracy and 400,000 lack functional literacy. The need for more vocational training is becoming more critical than ever. According to SfL, the UK logistics sector is worth £74.45 billion to the economy and currently employs 2.3 million people spanning some 190,000 companies. Yet the industry on which the nation relies, continues to be underestimated.

Adrian Bailey, MP for West Bromwich on a recent visit to West Midlands logistics company Warley Carriers, said: “For Britain to succeed in the modern global economy it is essential for industry to raise skill levels.”

The government commissioned Leitch review was designed to address the UK’s long term skills needs. The report revealed that the UK is lagging behind other European countries in terms of productivity. For example, the average French worker produces 20 per cent more per hour than the average UK worker, the average German worker 13 per cent more and the average US worker 18 per cent more.

One fifth of the UK’s productivity gap with countries such as France and Germany is due to the UK’s relatively poor skills. Differences in management practices between the USA and the UK explain 10 to 15 per cent of the productivity gap in manufacturing between the two countries. This indicates that both skills provision and management are important elements in increasing productivity.

Dr Mick Jackson, operations director, SfL, says that one of the main concerns for the logistics sector is that it’s not receiving its share of public investment. The reason for this is the sector’s reluctance to recognise public qualifications such as NVQs.

According to Jackson, some of the larger companies carry out their own discretionary training, but are more interested in competency than public qualifications and are therefore not eligible for public investment. Skills Sector Councils have been charged by the government to reduce the amount of people in logistics without a level two qualification by 2010. This means that 161,000 level two qualifications will have to be achieved by 2010 to meet this requirement. Jackson estimates that this would cost the government around £290 million, which it’s willing to provide, as long as the money is channelled towards publicly recognised qualifications.

Brian Szukala, general training manager, Freight Transport Association, says that one of the biggest issues for the sector is the compliance requirements for road haulage and meeting the demands of legislative changes. Szukala says that organisations tend to prioritise any training on ensuring that they meet the current legislative requirements first, with a tendency to look at what could be defined as compliance training in preference to actual job performance based training. One of the government’s objectives is to improve the overall skills levels in the UK to improve global competitiveness. Yet, according to Szukala, organisations often don’t pick up on the initiatives due to poor communication or not appreciating the value added by increasing staff skill levels. He says: “Many schemes become too focussed on achieving numbers, and there is a tendency to create a ‘conveyor belt’ training initiative where the outcome is less important than the delegate’s numbers attending.”

Obtaining adequate funding seems to be one of the main deterrents for companies thinking of adopting training schemes. According to Szukala, smaller operators tend to have fairly stretched resources and training tends to be less important, especially with tight financial margins and the competitiveness of the industry. Yet Barloworld Handling reports that a fully trained lift truck operator can provide immediate return in efficiency through fewer accidents, less damage to stock and increased productivity.

Training relevance forum
SfL conducts training relevance forums across the sector to enable employers take an active role in ensuring training is more demand led. With the feedback it obtained from employers SfL has developed a Professional Development Stairway, designed to help identify the mix of core and craft skills necessary at every level in a logistics career. Once it’s live, employees will be able to access it to ascertain what qualifications and training they may need to take their careers to the next level.

According to Dr Mick Jackson, the qualification field is also moving towards a modular approach. This means that workers can complete their training in a series of steps, rather than all at once.

Women account for a mere 22 per cent of the logistics workforce in England compared to a figure of 46 per cent in other sectors. Last year SfL was awarded £1.65 million in funding from the Department of Education and Skills for its Women and Work project, aimed at addressing workforce diversity issues in logistics. It says that substantial funding will be made available to provide subsidised training for organisations in the logistics sector wishing to train female employees. The Women in Warehousing programme is the second phase of the Women & Work initiative, and is aimed at encouraging women working in warehousing occupations to develop their skills and confidence.

Heidi Boateng, Women & Work project manager, says: “159,400 people are employed in warehousing in the UK, of which 24 per cent are female. Of these only 20 per cent are qualified at level three (the equivalent of two A-Levels) or above and only 9.3 per cent are at management level. There is a lot of potential for women in the industry to progress their careers. This scheme will help them to learn new skills, achieve qualifications and hopefully open more doors for them within their organisations.”

Dorothea Carvalho, director of professional development at the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, says: “The image of logistics continues to present a problem to attracting new people into logistics. It’s still ‘lorries and sheds’ and not a profession to many.”

In response to this, the CILT Young Professionals Forum (YPF) was set up to actively encourage young people to opt for logistics as a career. It comprises young and enthusiastic CILT members who are dedicated to presenting a positive image of the profession. The YPF aims to run two national events a year, focussing on topics that will appeal to young professionals from all backgrounds.

Yet Carvalho believes that it’s not just the image of logistics that needs to be addressed: “We cannot just effect a cosmetic change, we need a total culture change. Young people need to see logistics as a career with progression and the profession for the future”.

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