Logistics companies need to innovate constantly in order to meet new service expectations and retail habits, keep abreast of new technologies and evolving systems, and deal with challenges to existing business models.
Accordingly, the people employed in these companies need to evolve into a more flexible, multidisciplinary and customer-centric workforce in order to remain relevant and competitive.
A 2015 study of the United States logistics industry concluded that the country was heading for a perfect storm as far as supply-chain skills were concerned. The study pointed to industry demand for supply-chain talent, gaps in the skills set, the shift from a purely industrial economy to an information/service one, and the struggle of academia to provide the necessary skills as contributing factors.
A similar picture can be seen in South Africa – one that is magnified by the wide-ranging failings of the education system and rigid labour laws. The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017 bears this out, citing restrictive labour regulations and an inadequately educated workforce as two of the biggest issues facing business in South Africa, exceeded only by the inefficiency of bureaucracy.
Given these challenges, what can companies do to ensure their workforce remains motivated, loyal and ahead of the curve? It should come as no surprise that the most frequently cited needs are education and training. Workers at every point in the supply chain need to become less like cogs in a machine, and more able to think critically and dynamically in order to adapt and address issues swiftly.
The Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016 (World Economic Forum) notes: “Even lower-skilled jobs increasingly require talent and knowledge, so vocational training and secondary education need to equip people with the ability to work in a complex, digital environment… at all skill levels, individuals will be rewarded for the capacity to think critically, solve problems, and take advantage of new technologies.”
Rose Luke and Gert Heyns of the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (Africa) at the University of Johannesburg, say the scarcest technical skills are those that require quantitative knowledge, like inventory management, demand forecasting, spreadsheet abilities and supply-chain cost knowledge.
They believe, however, that South Africa is falling behind in terms of equipping employees to keep pace with the changing face of the industry. “Future supply chains will need a completely different skills set,” says Luke. “E-commerce growth, for example, will mean a massive expansion of last-mile distribution and the skills associated with it. Hard skills that are becoming increasingly critical include supply-chain design and visibility; big data mining and analytics; understanding current means of communication such as social media and applications and understanding of new means of delivery, for instance drones, 3D printing, ‘Uberification’ and autonomous vehicles.”
However, the evolving industry demands more than just technical skills. “Our research over the years has shown that although technical skills in the industry remain critical, most job-market entrants are lacking severely in the softer skills such as business ethics, the ability to plan and prioritise and, perhaps, most importantly, a customer focus,” explains Heyns. The real challenge is that supply chains are evolving so quickly that it’s difficult to keep employees up to date through training programmes. “This again reinforces the need for more soft skills, particularly those that relate to aspects such as problem solving, ability to see the big picture, collaboration, cross-functional teamwork and networking skills,” he says.