2012 | Can we Take the Grey Hair out of Logistics?


This year the SCALA Logistics Debate, now in its 9th year, changed venue to the splendid setting of the Marriott Forest of Arden. A windless sun-streaked day, so rare thus far in 2012, made for pleasant networking with Pimm’s and canapés overlooking the country club scenery and the odd (struggling) golfer.

However, the topic this year – ‘Can we take the Grey Hair out of Logistics?’ – provided a platform for a more intense and robust discussion. Chaired by David Grahamslaw, Vice Chair for CILT West Midlands, the panel of leading industry experts included: Terry Maywood (Ryman), Jonathan Chadburn(DHL), Jonathan Downes OBE (ABF – Westmill Foods), Chris Clowes (Costa Express), and Clare Bottle(Lafarge Cement). The speeches, which invariably included the occasional hair-loss joke, opened up a veritable tardis of industry issues, mostly regarding the ability to attract talent into the industry. In one of those rare occasions when specialists gather to legitimately reflect on long-term problems and solutions, the passion for the logistics profession was conspicuous.

Clare Bottle, who is also Vice Chair for Women in Logistics, addressed questions of gender inequality: in her workforce the average salary of women is 60% of the average salary of men. This startling figure represents a decline (!) from the nominal 75% of average male salary women were awarded when first entering the logistics industry decades ago. In turn, Jonathan Chadburn explained the Red Chair Network which DHL employs in order to promote women within the company. Though the policy has rendered impressive results, questions remained about whether this kind of scheme could (and would) be replicated elsewhere.

On technology, Chris Clowes commented that the grey-screen WMS systems most companies find themselves burdened with hold no interest for the young talent of the day who are savvy with the latest technologies (usually prefaced with the all-important ‘i’). Terry Maywood also remarked on the furious pace of technological development: the fact that emails were invented in 1995 and have come to consume a large part of working life reflects the need to stay apace with the IT world.

Jonathan Downes, who spent much of his career in the military, also posed the question of how our industry could attract the talent and expertise found in other disciplines and sectors. Many agreed that though they had ‘fallen’ into the industry through a love of ‘lorries and sheds’, logistics experience was not necessarily a precondition for an effective manager.

Following the speeches there was a vigorous Q&A with the audience. How do we attract young talent from an early age onwards, how do we attract more females in a traditionally male-dominated sector? Perspectives ranged from those who argued for apprenticeship-like schemes to be introduced to those who wanted to embed logistics into institutions to achieve professional recognition akin to that received by accountancy or law. Accordingly, much was made of the ‘scrap for talent’ that will almost definitely follow the storied increase of university tuition fees. The one point of unanimous agreement that followed was that gaping holes exist in the marketing and cohesion of the logistics industry.

Solutions ranged from investment into graduate schemes, introducing the logistics agenda into GCSE/A-level curricula and even taking trucks to primary schools. One pertinent observation that consistently stood out was that these strategies are not mere pipedreams but necessary if not sufficient conditions for large companies to achieve ultimate competitivity.

Attended by over 120 delegates, the conversation and networking continued over an excellent and varied buffet (the crème brûlée in particular was delicious). The debate held in association with the West Midlands CILT, was supported by Toyota Material Handling, DHL, BiS Henderson and AEB Advanced Global Trade Solutions. If you require more information on this year’s debate or are interested in joining the 2013 debate in any capacity please contact us at [email protected].

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