Challenge of Training Logistics Talent

Challenge of Training Logistics Talent


By Lori Musser

It is the Achilles’ heel of the project cargo industry. Tracking down, developing and maintaining strong project logistics talent is hard to do when there is a tremendous personnel shortage in project logistics, and in supply chain management in general.

Educational institutions offering supply chain management programs hardly touch on project cargo management; classes increasingly prep students for jobs in the high-volume e-commerce sector.

Industry coursework and on-the-job training, including internships, apprenticeships and career pathing comes to the rescue. If they can’t hire the right talent, engineering, procurement and construction companies and forwarders say they create it in-house.

“The task of finding people with the right skill sets required to run these highly complex operations is increasingly difficult – especially at the middle and upper-management levels,” summarizes Lisa Harrington, principal of the lharrington group LLC and author of the DHL research brief, The Supply Chain Talent Shortage: From Gap to Crisis. “Unless companies solve this problem, it could threaten their very ability to compete on the global stage,” she warned.

Released in July 2017, the global survey of more than 350 professionals concluded that digitalization, and a perceived lack of status in the supply chain profession, are top factors contributing to the global talent shortage. More than one-third of companies surveyed admitted to not adequately grooming future talent pipelines. Compounding the problem is that one-third of the workforce is at or beyond retirement age.


Skill Sets Changing

According to the DHL study, the ideal supply chain employee has both operational expertise and professional competencies such as analytical skills. More than half of the companies surveyed said this combination is hard to find.

While post-secondary institutions say they are trying to address these needs, the tremendous demand of e-commerce candidates may push training for niches like project cargo logistics to the back burner. Still, “the content of the programs and the profile of the graduate more accurately reflect what’s required by the companies. The students have more applied experience,” according to Dana Stiffler, vice president for Connecticut-based Gartner Research, which has been ranking U.S. supply chain educational programs for a decade.

In addition to more “real-world experience” gained through internships or co-op experiences, university programs are seeing greater emphasis on technology and software in the top supply chain programs.

Cape Breton University’s Shannon School of Business offers a Bachelor of Business Administration and a post-graduate diploma program in supply chain management. Sahand Ashtab, assistant professor of supply chain management, said: “Supply chain management is the inevitable! Companies have come to realize the benefits they can gain through accurate demand planning and forecast, designing optimal distribution networks, inventory management, procurement and supply management, logistics and route optimization, among others.”

Ashtab added that the school provides an excellent foundation in freight management and documentation, rate determination, international aspects, modal attributes and idiosyncrasies. Although it doesn’t offer a specific program on project logistics, he said that as universities move more towards case-based lecture sessions, students have the opportunity to link textbook concepts to real cases.

The study of real-life project cargo movements provides learning opportunities related to operational best practices, pitfalls, safety, cross-functional collaboration, and gives a glimpse of life as a team member in a complex cargo movement.Range of Training Options

Chen Zhou is associate professor and associate chair of undergraduate programs at the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology. One of the largest U.S. industrial engineering schools, Georgia Tech graduates roughly 150 students with supply chain studies annually.

Zhou said the school has focused on supply chain for many years. Its Gartner ranking has improved along with its increasing emphasis on computing and analytics. It offers studies in forecasting, regression and even machine-learning. He said that much supply chain learning has come from the business schools, because of their dominance in the universities, but, “the engineering perspective is very important.” That may be particularly true of project cargo logistics where over-dimensional, oversize freight is the norm.

Within Georgia Tech supply chain engineering, electives now delve into traditional business school subjects such as transportation and logistics, manufacturing, and supply chain economics. While most of the school’s students come in as freshman, they undertake internships and have a placement rate upon graduation of 97 percent to 98 percent, according to Zhou.

A number of industry training programs have also sprung up that help project cargo movers mid-career. Some programs are offered by industry associations, media or consultants, and some by EPCs or forwarders themselves via apprenticeships, internships and on-the-job training.

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Addressing the Essentials

Singapore-based VCS-Trinity Consultants started its Project Cargo Logistics Management courses a decade ago to address the essentials of project cargo movement and management.

“In particular, we wanted to address the planning, execution and pitfalls of a typical move,” said the company’s VCS Varden. The coursework embeds contract and legal aspects of liability, risk covers, caps, “time is of the essence” clauses, tools such as Gantt charts, voyage planning, payment schedules and performance, use of charter parties, and other elements.

“Project supply chain providers/executives are notoriously busy people, but we recognized they needed some quick capsule skills essential for a project movement and management,” Varden said.

VCS-Trinity offers an à la carte menu to assist in long-term career development. The Project Cargo Logistics Management course, offered two or three times per year, “is designed to be sharp and specific, so time is a constraint, but we do also include project case studies and supplementary training material. The program is popular … largely supported by freight forwarders, shipping companies, charterers, commodity traders, insurers, and we are reaching out to engineering companies,” Varden said.

The company’s supplementary programs cover shipping law, chartering, contract preparation/negotiation, insurance, oil and gas, procurement, turnkey project management, and more.



Companies that invest in apprenticeships can build bench strength from within. Apprenticeships, according to Janina Reinig, general manager of F.H. Bertling Logistics Germany, help motivate staff, increase job satisfaction, strengthen skill sets, generate higher overall productivity in the long term, and make the company more competitive. Its apprentices tend to be more loyal and remain in the company longer than non-apprentices.

“A company like Bertling, being privately owned and more than 150 years old, needs to ensure that its knowledge and expertise is passed on from one generation to the next,” Reinig said, to safeguard values, ethics and code of conduct. Senior generations are challenged through young, inexperienced and fresh minds. “Young can learn from old and vice versa, which is from time to time very refreshing and fruitful.”

Because the skills shortage is still a big threat to the industry, apprenticeships help to reduce that shortage, while minimizing staff turnover and workplace accidents and increasing productivity, according to Reinig.

She described the apprenticeship programs as providing critically important time-management skills, practical skills, and communication and interpersonal skills.

“Interacting on a daily basis with colleagues, clients and business partners will teach the apprentice the art of negotiation,” as well as how to delicately word communications, work as part of a team, interact, and the general culture of the workplace, Reinig said.Industry Guides Educators

John Hark, chartering director-North America for Bertling Logistics, said training has been almost completely on-the-job for many of today’s project logistics managers, who started in general forwarding roles and later moved to projects, or started as an entry-level coordinator in project logistics and worked their way up to manager. Occasional internal or external training courses have helped fill knowledge gaps.

A lack of degree or formal training has led many forwarders, EPCs and project owners to take it upon themselves to provide guidance to universities to ensure basic project logistics concepts are covered.

“Many of us are teaching as adjuncts, guest speaking at the schools, serving as corporate fellows … and sitting on various advisory councils with universities and junior colleges. In the Houston market, we are starting to see progress,” Hark said.

Skills that typify successful project logistics manager (strong organizational, communication, technical and time management skills, along with a solid work ethic and ability to work under pressure) are not necessarily taught in schools, he said. “The successful project manager at a forwarder will have the trust of the clients and service providers. All of this comes with years of on-the-job training and experience.”

Nevertheless, he said, future project managers would certainly benefit from university and college-level classes with at least some emphasis on capital project logistics execution to give them a basis for starting their career.

“I am cautiously optimistic that our efforts with the universities as an industry are putting us on this path. We just need to be patient and be in it for the long haul,” Hark said.


Based in the U.S., Lori Musser is a veteran shipping industry writer.

Photo credit: Shutterstock



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