When people talk about the transport and logistics market, they usually think trucks, ships, planes and trains or even roads, airports and ports. What won’t be at the front of their minds are the people required to operate these assets, or the managers who plan the movement of goods across global supply chains.

This is not merely an inconvenient fact. Right across the world, the industry is being undermined by a skills shortage which is impacting efficiencies, not just for the transport and logistics sector but also for the manufacturers and retailers who use their services.

This is one reason why I address the issue in this year’s “Outlook on the Logistics & Supply Chain Industry 2012”. The document comprises a series of papers written by 11 Members of the Global Agenda Council on Logistics & Supply Chains on issues of key importance to the logistics industry. Members of the Council have identified what they regard as some of the major challenges confronting the logistics industry and suggest ways of dealing with them.

When Transport Intelligence undertook a survey for the World Economic Forum last year to look at the extent of the problem, it was found that 64% said they had difficulty recruiting good employees.

Probing a little deeper into why this was the case, the problems, it seems, can be characterized by issues related to both supply and demand. For example, many logistics companies said that it is difficult to find good quality candidates with the right skills. This is obviously a supply issue related to the state of education, over which the logistics industry has little control.

On the other hand, it is within the industry’s power to address the reasons why many good candidates fail to be attracted to the sector. For example, the survey identified pay levels and a low industry profile in schools and colleges, as well as a poor industry image.

One way in which the industry can improve its public perception is through campaigns run by industry bodies such as the CSCMP and the CILT. Advertising by logistics companies, including UPS and DHL, will also play a role, especially relating logistics to high profile public events, including the Olympics. A partnership approach between these organizations and government agencies would seem to be an effective route to developing logistics as a career option for many school leavers and graduates.

What is clear is that many companies must break out of the present spiral of decline in which they find themselves. Without good quality staff, logistics companies cannot expect to create value in supply chains. Without adding value, their customers will continue to pressurize margins, making it even more difficult for companies to attract and afford good quality staff. With this in mind, it is surely in the best interest of all stakeholders to address supply chain talent as a strategic priority.

Read the report published by the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Logistics and Supply Chain Industry.

Author: John Manners-Bell is Editor and Chief Executive Officer, Transport Intelligence, United Kingdom, and a Member of the Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Logistics & Supply Chains.

Image: A driver is seen in his vehicle in a line of trucks stuck on the road during a severe winter snow near Urziceni, 57 km (35 miles) northeast of Bucharest January 27, 2012.  REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel