Focus on active leadership

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Demand for logisticians is as strong as ever. Industry challenges such as increasingly complex supply chains, shorter lead times, and global sourcing means customers are demanding more, and companies such as DHL Exel Supply Chain, need people who can cope with these pressures.

Sue Cowley, human resources director of healthcare, industrial, technology, and automotive in the UK, says the style of management in logistics is changing – with more emphasis now put on active leadership skills, and customer-focus.

“We have a responsibility as a world-class employer, and the largest logistics provider, to do our training properly. It’s not just because someone legislates it – it’s got to be about wanting to retain our people,” she says.

Cowley is adamant that the industry, as a whole, must do more to attract young people. “Do people really know what we do? I doubt it. Too many people discover logistics by accident.”

The company does a lot in terms of graduate opportunities. It has a well-established graduate programme and has taken on 36 graduates this year – nine more than last year. The programme, which runs for 18 months, comprises three operationally focused placements across different DHL divisions.

Cowley says the scheme is intensive and in line with the company’s mantra – “Early responsibility, fast progression”. Graduates are given real roles for six months at a time.

“The opportunities are real, people can move on from the graduate scheme very quickly,” says Cowley. In fact, some of the company’s most senior executives started out on the graduate scheme.

But she says it is important not to oversell the global aspect when attracting graduates. “We don’t want people joining under the illusion that there are hundreds of DHL jobs available on a beach in Australia. I think sometimes it’s very easy for companies to go out to young people and oversell, and I think that’s why some companies don’t retain a lot of their graduates.”

Graduates are based in their country of origin for the duration of the programme. Once they’ve completed it they’re encouraged to apply abroad. “We look for creative, entrepreneurial people who can take the initiative and seek out ways to advance our business success.” All graduates are guaranteed a role in the company at the end of the programme.

The fact that Deutsche Post World Net has its own University sets it apart from its competitors. Its logistics division has worked for a number of years with local universities, to help shape management programmes.

It has also worked with sixth form colleges to help add a more realistic approach to the academic side of training. It’s currently working with Carlton College in Nottingham.

Cowley says the company provides places for students who want to do work experience during their summer holidays. “This isn’t a matter of getting them in to make the coffee and do the photocopying – we find meaty projects for them to tackle, to give them some proper experience, and give them an insight into logistics.”

These types of relationships only work locally, but they help build the awareness of logistics as a career, and could prove advantageous if the student decided to come back to work at DHL permanently or went on to study logistics at university.

Cowley says it is now looking at ways in which it can introduce an apprenticeship scheme.

“Apprenticeships used to play a large part in the community, and that’s gone now. What is there for children other than go to college and do a course and then find a company to do an apprenticeship at. We want to turn that around.

“I don’t think organisations should receive everything for free – they should pay for their own training such as health and safety. But the government needs to do more. We have to ask ourselves – are we hindering individuals who want or need more training, but can’t have it because they can’t afford to take the testing or pay for the licence. This is a shared responsibility.

Cowley reckons the government could do a lot more to help companies finance more training schemes. “The crux of the problem is that there’s no current support for licensing. This is something the logistics industry should lobby for. So far it’s been overshadowed by the construction industry, which has its licensing covered.

“It’s no different from supporting someone through a degree or through an NVQ in nursing. People in our industry shouldn’t miss out just because it’s been decided licensing is to be excluded from the funding.

“If we want to encourage people into logistics, we need to make funding available for licensing. We could do a lot more training with that money, if it was put in the right places.”

Cowley points to the issue of drivers licences as an example. In the past a person’s licence covered them to drive several different vehicles. Now that’s not the case, which complicates things as you need separate licences, which bump up costs.

She also expresses reservations regarding the run-up to the CPC legislation for drivers, which will be compulsory from 2009. DHL alone has 17,000 drivers who will need the training. The sheer number of drivers across the industry, who will also need it, may give rise to independent trainers sprouting up out of nowhere to cash in.


The company works hard to develop ways of tackling industry issues such as diversity. Cowley heads up DHL’s diversity work for Europe. It ran a survey in the UK and Holland to find out what people thought of diversity – not just regarding the male, female ratio, but ethnicity as well. The results helped them identify certain topics which need to be addressed.

“There’s a valid business case for diversity – it’s not just about being nice.” It is now planning to set up a female network and pilot it in the UK and Holland and possibly France. The idea is to give females across the company the chance to share opportunities.

“Being female myself I struggled with the idea in the beginning. But it’s certainly not a knitting club or an underground union,” says Cowley. In fact, the scheme will open the way for “taster” sessions, which will give women the opportunity to job-swap for six months. It is also looking at flexible working.

“It is going to take some years to get diversity to where it should be – not just in the logistics industry – but in society as a whole. But we need to provide the opportunities. It’s not positive discrimination – there’s no point having token women – they must earn their place in the company.”

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