Logistical Learning - Business Media MAGS

Freight, Logistics and Warehousing

Logistical Learning

The supply-chain industry requires a great breadth of evolving skills. Trevor Crighton investigates how local businesses and institutions are shaping up to provide these skills.

South Africa’s export industry – with its associated functions of warehousing, freight and logistics – is one of South Africa’s greatest assets and can play a vital role in the country’s economic growth. Producing skilled contributors to these fields is therefore vital, and some of the country’s educational institutions are doing so on a world-class level.

A number of vocational and professional bodies such as the South African Production and Inventory Control Society, the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport SA offer a range of training certifications.

Some public higher-education institutions have a specific focus in terms of specialisation either in procurement, logistics, transport economics or the broader supply-chain management field. Private institutions also continue to enter the growing market for supply-chain management skills by offering short courses and undergraduate qualifications.

Wesley Niemann, of the supply chain management division at the Department of Business Management at the University of Pretoria, says that there’s certainly no lack of diversity of related courses, with South African public and private higher-education institutions offering a progressive range of formal qualifications and skills programmes, including certificate, diploma, bachelors, honours, masters and doctoral programmes as well as short courses and programmes geared towards skills development.

“South Africa has seen a prolific increase in supply chain management and logistics education and training offerings recently,” says Niemann. “Traditionally the focus was on logistics and transport economics, but institutions and service providers have adapted their education offerings to be more focused on the entire supply and value chain. Higher-education institutions have noted a steep annual increase in applications, due to major skills shortages in the field.”

Dr Beverley Waugh, the head of the supply chain management faculty at IMM Graduate School and an expert in supply-chain and logistics management, has identified a knowledge of marketing as one of these missing skills, particularly in export managers.

“The informed opinion of the industry is that managers in the field should have a wide-based knowledge of the world of business and be able to think across different disciplines,” says Waugh. In a thought-leadership article, she said: “Export, supply-chain and logistics management encompasses the various elements of planning, implementing and controlling the efficient and effective forward and reverse flow and storage of goods, as well as sourcing and procurement, and integrating of supply and demand management within and across companies and different disciplines. What is the common thread? Excellent supply-chain and communication knowledge and skills!”

Strategising around skills

According to Metro Minds founder and CEO Juliette Fourie, a lack of skills development as part of a business strategy is holding the industry back – something the institution wants to remedy.

“Our landscape is filled with realities such as compliance regulations and global structures forced on a local market – companies are so driven to make sure they fulfil the ‘tick-box’ exercise, they forget to look at process, people and system strategies as a first priority,” she says. “There is also a lack of driving ethical leadership from a young age.”

While the South African supply-chain management and logistics training and education landscape offers a broad array of practical and theoretical programmes, Niemann says it’s important to distinguish between “training” and “education”.

“People often use the terminology loosely, but it’s important to understand the difference, as both serve a purpose in the development of the workforce,” he explains. “Training is, in essence, ‘learning by doing’ – an intervention aimed at developing specific skills. The objective of education is to deliver knowledge about facts, events, values, beliefs, general concepts and principles to the students with the purpose of developing reasoning, understanding, judgement, intellect and critical thinking. The South African industry requires both.”

Adapting education

The rise in interest in the field has seen universities starting to adapt their courses, with an eye on closing the gap between theory and practice, and aiming to produce innovative, creative and job-ready graduates for the South African and global labour market.

“Traditionally, universities did not include practical work-integrated learning in the curriculums, and growing student numbers make this difficult,” says Niemann. “Supply-chain management
academics at the University of Pretoria continuously improve the academic programme with new innovations like the use of computerised simulations and industry visits to expose students to practice. Furthermore, the supply-chain management division in the Department of Business Management at UP annually runs various industry-alliance projects where students get the opportunity to solve
real-life problems.”

Dr Myles Wakeham of the IMM Graduate School says that this type of experiential learning and practical application has been lacking in South African courses, with graduates often ill-equipped to apply the knowledge in a working environment.

“In Germany, organisations such as Mercedes-Benz and Siemens send their students to university for three months at a time and then allow the students to apply the new knowledge that they have gained when they return to work,” he says. “This, in my opinion, is sorely lacking in South Africa as it is very difficult to place students in organisations during their vacation in order to obtain the requisite opportunity to apply their newly garnered knowledge and skills.”

These kinds of simulations are a major element of Metro Minds courses, where complicated and technical principles are explained through gamification, case studies, board games and the like, with key performing areas quickly identified and immediate improvements in performance relatively easily attainable.

“Research done and defended academically has shown that five days in the simulated environment is equivalent to 25 days in the actual workplace,” says Fourie. “We have empirical evidence indicating a 100% increase in productivity and 76% fewer errors, producing learners who are 80% more comfortable and ready in workplace and 72% more multi-skilled after they have attended the simulated qualification versus a traditional theoretical qualification.”

The University of Pretoria’s supply-chain management course produces about 90 bachelor, 30 honours and 15 masters students in the field of supply-chain management and logistics each year – 80% of whom have obtained employment before the annual autumn graduation ceremony over the last decade, the remainder usually continuing with postgraduate studies rather than entering the market.

Metro Minds currently produces between 300 and 450 students each year, with an aim to reach 850 via their new online system. Their Wise Minds programme, which helps graduates transition into the workplace, has seen 75% of students finding employment or internship opportunities within their first year in the working world and 55% receiving extended employment offers or permanent contracts in
the second year.

Image: ©Shutterstock - 708817909

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