Wanted: more skilled personnel

Wanted: more skilled personnel

Skills shortages continue to bedevil the logistics and supply chain industry. MARIO LANDMAN, head of the Institute of Logistics and Supply Chain Management, elaborates.

Logistics and supply chain management practitioners are reporting shortages of up to
64 percent in positions that require a bachelor’s degree. Even at operational level, where candidates need a grade 12, a post-school certificate or a diploma, companies experienced a
27 percent shortage in 2013.

In South Africa today, the skills shortage is the fourth-highest supply chain constraint. This is according to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)’s tenth Annual State of Logistics Survey for South Africa (2013), which reports that the lack of skilled personnel, at all levels, continues to be a major concern to the performance of supply chain management.

It is a challenge that affects virtually every one of South Africa’s key economic drivers. Industries such as mining, manufacturing, retail and farming, for example, would be incapacitated without these skills and services.

Every year, investment in the road, rail, port and airport infrastructures continues to be a high priority with billions of rand invested in various projects in these areas. In 2013, logistics costs were estimated at R423 billion, and have grown significantly over the last four years, when measured as a percentage of transportable gross domestic product (GDP) – primarily due to fuel increases.

Developing efficiencies within end-to-end supply chain integration is now critical for strong financial performance, and to mitigate the effect of volatile fuel costs. Thus, strategically, investment in logistics and supply chain management skills would be a vital contributor to a profitable bottom line.

In such a rapidly developing and changing industry, skilled practitioners require hard skills (traditionally taught academically) and soft skills, but also work experience – especially if they want to progress in their careers, and use the benefits of the changes in the industry to the advantage of their organisation.

Soft skills are of such importance to the industry that surveys, conducted by the University of Johannesburg, found that practitioners place these skills, particularly customer-focused management, well ahead of the required hard skills.

Wanted: more skilled personnelStudents, however, prioritise such skills much further down their lists. This discrepancy could be accounted for by the lack of real-world experience in the industry on the on the part of the students. However, it does create a gap between the needs of employers and the skills pool available.

Such a gap results in many candidates, despite having degrees, not being fully qualified for a position – especially when they look to move into the more tactical and strategic roles of supply chain management. It is at this juncture that the industry runs the risk of losing skilled candidates to other courses and even careers.

While many industry practitioners do recognise the need for more skills and believe further qualifications (such as a National Diploma or Bachelor of Business Administration degree) could help them, very few are able to take these traditional routes through academia, due to financial constraints and those of their working environment.

For instance, attending regularly scheduled classes can be difficult for a practitioner with the type of work schedule common in the logistics industry. The traditional distance-learning alternative is also not viable, as this often does not offer appropriate support.

It is this gap that needs to be filled by more responsive professional certifications, graduate training programmes and vocational associations.

While the South African Production and Inventory Control Society (SAPICS) Operations Management Body of Knowledge Framework (OMBOK) found that the quality of tertiary degrees in the field was on par with other countries, and adequately taught the hard skills, professional certifications and membership of professional associations lagged behind – and it is through these institutions that a better understanding of the soft skills could be developed.

In response to these insights, the Institute of Logistics and Supply Chain Management (ILSCM) has developed a number of accredited qualifications that offer relevant, flexible education solutions.

Dedicated to the industry and with a depth of research resources, the ILSCM is able to respond to changes and developments quickly, to the benefit of their graduates, practitioners and the industry as a collective whole.

Although quantitative research is yet to be published about the impact these courses are having on the industry, ILSCM graduates, and companies partnering with the ILSCM, have reported an overall improvement in relevant skills, particularly soft skills.

Indeed, empirical evidence is showing that partnering with education providers is a highly effective route for companies seeking to build their skills capacity and improve their overall performance.

The pulse of Africa’s supply chains

The 37th annual SAPICS conference and exhibition will be held from May 31 until June 2, at Sun City. SAPICS is the premier educational and networking event in Africa for supply chain and operations management professionals. The conference offers practical and relevant information through educational presentations, case studies and interactive workshops.

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