The Workforce of Tomorrow in Logistics
By Dr. Shereen Nassar, Global Director of Logistics Studies and the Director of the MSc Logistics and Supply Chain Management Programme – Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University Dubai.
The global supply chain market is growing exponentially and encountering major transformations. The growth is unquestionable; according to Allied Market Research, the global supply chain management market size valued at USD 15.85 billion in 2019 is projected to reach USD 37.41billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 11.2 per cent from 2020 to 2027.
Technology has become a key player in moving logistics from its traditional recourse to forming an advanced outlook supporting its growth. According to a report by UNCTAD, the market for frontier technologies (a group of new technologies that take advantage of digitalisation) could grow to over USD 3.2 trillion by 2023.
Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain and the Internet of Things seem to have increasing prominence across sectors and are playing a big role in making the industry more agile and resilient. In addition, shifting demographics, advances in logistics technology, and the Covid-19 pandemic have converged to alter how we work, arguably at a rate never before seen in the logistics industry. This requires a workforce prepared to integrate into the new disruption-based advancements and successfully navigate industry demands.
As the industry looks to the future, it is becoming increasingly clear that shifting demographics in the sector are also a catalyst for change within its functionality. As a result, the industry currently needs and will have increased requirements in the future for new talent with appropriate skills and new mindsets, which also means that the older generation is on the way to retirement.
The current concerns stem from the fact that if the industry is changing, so is the workforce. Every industry has seen multi-faceted shifts in employee and consumer behaviour and needs through the pandemic. As a result, there is a fear of employees moving due to employers’ lack of priority fulfillment, resulting in the organisation losing institutional knowledge and experience. Additionally, due to competitiveness, it is becoming increasingly difficult to retain employees. According to Gartner (2020), struggling to hire, train and retain logistics talent is the top critical priority for logistics leaders.
Historically the logistics industry has used manual processes to manage huge amounts of data and other work. However, recent years have seen the increased adoption of technology across its work processes. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic directly impacted supply chains. As a result, logistics companies urgently navigated increased demands, employee absenteeism, and new health and safety protocols, among several other evolving challenges to keep production running. These challenges led many facilities to accelerate their automation initiatives and digitalisation efforts for improved resilience.
Technologies such as robotics, machine learning, augmented reality, 3D printing, drones, and unmanned ground vehicles (UGV’s), have been increasingly key in the growth of the logistics sector. As a result, the current workforce will need to extensively upskill themselves to improve technical capabilities and understand the rapid changes that digitisation is causing. Furthermore, educational institutions are tasked with expanding horizons and tweaking curriculums to address future technological needs. According to a survey report by PWC, 74 per cent of respondents are ready to learn new skills or re-train to remain employable in the future.
Furthermore, data literacy is another very crucial requirement for logistics personnel. Gartner predicts that by 2022, 90 per cent of corporate strategies will explicitly mention information as a critical enterprise asset and analytics as an essential competency. As a result, supply chain organisations must build an employee base with data literacy to be successful. Data literacy is the skill of reading, writing, and communicating data in context, including understanding data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied, and the ability to describe the use-case application and resulting value. It will play a crucial role in employability which will be connected to the growth of an organisation.
There are four key interdependent roles identified for digital supply chains. These are driven by technology, data, end-to-end insights, and innovation. The first is related to the technical skills needed to design, configure, use, and maintain new technologies e.g., 3-D printing, AI, and robotics. The second is concerned with analytical skills that drive scenario planning and data-led modelling to enable the supply chain to inform business decisions. The third is the orchestration ability to develop end-to-end insights that drive internal and external collaboration. The fourth is about innovation that drives new business opportunities and brings a commercial lens through understanding the big picture
Tech talents must understand and decide if a technology solution is required and is a suitable option. Another important factor that the future workforce needs to consider is their knowledge on sustainability.
Globally, sustainability is on the agenda of every industry, and the logistics sector is no different. Understanding the environmental, financial, and social impacts of logistics will serve advantageously to those looking to work in the industry. Sustainability will be key in securing the future of any industry. And every individual working or looking to work in the sector must acquire the necessary knowledge to support sustainability. Furthermore, enterprises are now creating employment positions focused on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) activities in logistics.
Logistics leaders need to grasp what drives career decision of the future workforce. This should not be limited to compensation and career path. A recent report by Gartner showed that future generations value companies with high corporate social responsibility profiles. Future workforces also value innovation, flexibility and short-track progression plans. They can move from one job to another in a short time to harness opportunities. They are tech-savvy, and it is challenging for them to cope with outdated systems. Logistics leaders need to demonstrate how the future workforce’s expectations are met to enhance the profession’s awareness.
While soft skills such as empathy, adaptability, problem-solving, industry knowledge, and accountability have always been important to employers, the pandemic has further put a spotlight on soft skills that will support the growth of employees in an organisation. The workforce of tomorrow in logistics will not only be equated with the technological advancements and their grasp on it but also through the ability to constantly adapt to and embrace change.
The world as we know it has changed. Universities and educational institutions are tasked with building a resilient workforce of tomorrow through education that is in line with the industry demands, rapid shifts, and unprecedented changes. Furthermore, for the current workforce it is extremely important to upskill themselves to learn relevant skills to advance their careers and contribute to the industry’s growth.
Developing in-demand skills, enhancing capabilities, and embracing technology will create a futuristic workforce that can adapt to changes and be agile. With the industry’s projected growth, it is indeed a fast-growing labour market that needs equipped, motivated, and focused individuals. The sector is set to take on challenges to lead and thrive.