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Why Logistics Should be Introduced Earlier into our Educational System

A lecture room with brown empty chairs

As the Welsh Government overhauls GCSEs in Wales, one has to ask the question why Supply Chain and Logistics is not included in the latest subject additions alongside engineering, manufacturing, film and digital media.

According to the Logistics UK 2021 report the UK logistics sector is vital for the country’s financial success, contributing 10% to the UK’s non-financial business economy. It contributes in excess of £127 billion Gross Value Added (GVA) and is the 5th largest sector in the UK employing more than 2.5 million people.

“Logistics and supply chain management is regional, national and global - it is everywhere,” says Dr Graham Wall, University of Portsmouth.

Given the prominence of the subject today and the fact that it touches most of our lives at the moment in one way or another surely the youth of today should be given an insight into this fascinating subject at an early age. This might help explain to them in more detail, why we currently have shortages in our retail stores, how complex the delivery of covid vaccines at different temperatures is, why there are issues with fuel deliveries to petrol stations and why is waste collection an issue at the present time.

When I studied for my GCSEs and A levels (admittedly a long time ago), the choice of subjects was very narrow. When I got to Leicester Polytechnic to study Business Studies I was surprised when a number of my peers had studied subjects including economics, sociology and psychology whereas my choice included geography, history, languages (French, Latin and Welsh) the sciences and woodwork. I was therefore at a disadvantage as those were the subjects included in the Business Studies degree alongside law, statistics and data processing (IT today).

There were no undergraduate courses in Logistics or Supply Chain in those days, as far as I remember, in fact, even those terms weren’t used regularly. Back then it was more transport and warehousing or ‘trucks and sheds’.

Things changed for me when I did my one year, industrial placement with British Road Services (BRS), the forerunner of Excel Logistics which then became DHL. When I was interviewed for the placement I was told I would spend time in the traffic office, in engineering, in truck rental and at Head Office, in the personnel department (Human Resources).

My introduction to the world of logistics had begun and very early on I realized how diverse the opportunities were within this industry. My first job was in the traffic office as a traffic controller. It was somewhat embarrassing initially as I asked where the ‘paddles’ were so that I could direct the traffic in the yard, similar to the guys at an airport. I soon found out that a traffic controller was at the hub of operations, dealing with customer enquiries, quoting for deliveries and allocating vehicles to particular jobs.

This first 6 months had me hooked on freight transport and I had no hesitation in applying back to BRS once I graduated. I wasn’t so keen on working in HR – too many statistics to compile, although the Union negotiations were interesting!

As my career progressed in logistics, I held a number of jobs including sales and marketing, customer services, operations management and IT, finally ending up in consultancy, lecturing and training.

Supply Chain and Logistics is not just about driving trucks and moving boxes in warehouses. Quoting Harold Hamley – “once considered a low-skilled industry, logistics and supply chain management today is emerging as a highly desirable sector for employment, providing an exciting high-tech career”.

Whilst lecturing in logistics at Warwick University it never ceased to amaze me that, when asked, very few students who did their Masters in Supply Chain, wanted to manage transport fleets or warehouses. The majority wanted to be in procurement – a glamorous job, flying all over the world to purchase products – or so they say. Interestingly, after a week’s course in Warehouse Management, another show of hands at the end of the week saw at least 20% of the class considering a role in warehouse management having seen the challenges and the technology involved in running a modern warehouse. Today there are a number of undergraduate and post graduate courses in logistics however we need to introduce the subject earlier to younger students before they choose their under-graduate courses.

When discussing the backgrounds of mature students on supply chain courses at the University, the majority of them had not chosen supply chain and logistics as a career of choice at the outset and very few, if any, had a logistics degree. They had literally ended up in the roles accidentally or were persuaded to take on the role as no one else was available, interested or qualified. Hence, we still see IT Directors, Customer Services Directors, Sales and even Finance Directors with a responsibility for logistics. This will change as the role of Supply Chain Director gains more prominence.

In discussion with these students who now find themselves in logistics and supply chain their main reaction is that they wished they’d known about the work of the departments sooner.

A career in Logistics and Supply Chain is not just about operational management. We can also see people working in the following areas:

  • Sales and marketing
  • Engineering
    • Robotics
    • Automation
    • Mechanics
  • Legal
  • Procurement
  • Project management
  • Human resources (HR)
  • Finance
  • Information Technology
  • Health and Safety
  • Customs and Excise

These positions are in companies who are not only involved in retail and manufacturing but also those providing third-party logistics services, courier companies, those who supply transport and warehousing equipment such as trucks, automation and robotics, companies who provide IT related products such as Enterprise Resource Planning systems, warehouse management systems and route planning systems and many other logistics related products.

A current example is an Amazon mechatronics apprenticeship. In fact, Amazon has nine different programmes on offer to people of all levels which include IT, safety and HR through to software engineering, robotics, leadership and technology.

So why choose a career in logistics and supply chain?

Firstly, it is a dynamic and constantly changing environment where each day has different challenges. For people who are good at problem solving it is a good career move. The ability to ‘do’ Maths is also an advantage!

Secondly, there is significant career progression with Supply Chain Directors now being included on company Boards with many going on to be Chief Executives given their breadth of knowledge across the company. Logistics is a practical activity, so it is possible to progress through the ranks wherever you start. I know a number of Directors who began their careers picking items in warehouses and then progressed up the management ladder.

Finally, the industry is in desperate need of good quality, trained staff at all levels. Respondents to the Logistics UK Industry Survey 2020/21 indicated that increasing the number of staff and training were the highest HR priorities for the year ahead.

The number of apprenticeships has increased and the “kickstart” program should lead to more people entering the industry at all levels. However, in order to make the industry more visible to the public at large we need to start teaching these subjects at an early stage.

As Clare Bottle, UKWA CEO recently pointed out “there is a responsibility upon both the industry and the government to ensure people are aware of the job opportunities in logistics and that there is a more coherent framework of training to address labour shortages and skills gaps”.