The grocery industry has been one of the most dynamic in the development of supply chains at both strategic and tactical levels so it is no surprise that there is a constant requirement for well qualified logisticians. But there is some evidence that a shortage of suitable candidates is developing.
Chris Hart, director retail division (contract logistics) at Kuehne + Nagel, says: “There has always and will continue to be a strong demand for high calibre, qualified logistics managers in this market. However, ‘qualified’ should not just be confined to professional qualifications; it is just as important to define ‘qualified’ as qualified by experience. Professional qualifications can help determine whether an individual has the commitment to improve and develop themselves and can give them exposure and an understanding in areas that they have not previously experienced.”
Barrie Brackstone, business director, retail sector at TDG, says: “I believe the market is much the same, but it’s changing. Firstly, because larger retailers have such complex and integrated operations, they require resource providers to fit within the constraints of the existing system. This means that in many cases, developments and innovation are restricted to the retailers, rather than being initiated by 3PLs because it is only the retailer that has full visibility. Secondly, increasingly, retailers are looking for supply chain people rather than logistics. By this I mean that they want to work with people and companies with experience of all parts of the supply chain jigsaw as they need people who can equally deal with organising imported goods, or managing suppliers.”
There are a number of factors driving demand, says Hart. “This is a market that is not just growing in size but evolving at a very fast pace in regards to the demand for ongoing service enhancements but with tight cost control parameters. The need is, therefore, for individuals who can work and excel within this environment and add value to the organisation and the market.”
Brackstone points out that, as ever, there is the drive to reduce costs in this highly competitive market. This can be maximised through visibility of the total supply chain rather than single points along the chain.
The grocery sector is changing dramatically, says Brackstone, with the move away from the traditional perishable and longer life grocery items, to a huge growth in sales of white goods, brown goods and clothes – all of which have very different supply chain characteristics. Probably as a consequence, there is more emphasis on end to end logistics, where logisticians will need experience and flexibility in handling imported goods and experience in maximising the use of resources across operations and nodes of the chain.
Hart says: “The market will continue to evolve with ongoing demands for logisticians to find ways of coping with shorter lead times from distribution centre/warehouse to end delivery point. At the same time, the continued and wider spread implementation of new technology such as RFID and Pick by Voice requires personnel with skills and understanding of these technologies, as well as being good people managers and communicators within still a very much labour dominated industry.
Logisticians today need to have flexibility in managing operations with the ability to look across operations and find opportunities for improvements and add value, says Brackstone. “And of course they need a structured approach to problem solving and good financial skills, not just across operations, but up and down the supply chain.
Hart says employers are not looking just for specific logistics and distribution experience but competencies encompassing adaptability, flexibility and the desire to find better solutions and improved ways of working to meet the high service demands of the market. “As mentioned earlier, overall excellent communication and change management skills and the need for good Industrial Relations understanding in an ever changing environment is essential.”
Specific markets demand specific skills on top of general supply chain skills. Hart says: “Probably the key specific skills are the ability to plan, problem solve and be flexible within very short timescales. The grocery market can be extremely volatile due to any number of short lead times and high impact events such as the weather.”
Brackstone says: “As the definition of ‘grocery’ becomes blurred then so the skills become more transferable. Good commercial skills are becoming essential across both areas.
Employers often have to choose whether to recruit qualified logisticians or people who first and foremost understand the grocery business. Hart says it is not an easy black and white choice. “The ideal is probably somewhere between a bit of both. Knowledge and experience of the grocery market can be of vital importance as well as having managers who have logistics experience and qualifications. An ideal team would, therefore, probably have both.”
Brackstone agrees: “With an emphasis on supply chain, and flatter structures the career development plans for people have changed,” he says. “People coming into the industry need to seek a path that moves between operations and supply chain if they are to reach senior positions.”
The career development path for logisticians in the grocery sector can vary depending on the actual employers and the individual themselves, says Hart. “There are certainly a large number of development opportunities available to logisticians if they show drive and commitment in helping to determine their own career path. It is not just up to the employer to do that.”