Developing an organisation-wide framework for professional development is a huge challenge, frequently faced by HR professionals. Imagine being tasked with the prospect of developing a CPD framework for an entire industry.
Skills shortages are high on the business agenda in a variety of sectors. The government sees these shortages as such a challenge to the UK’s productivity that it has set up a network of 25 Sector Skills Councils, each tasked with identifying and tackling skills gaps and shortages on a sector-by-sector basis.
Skills for Logistics are one of these sector skills councils. But as Dr Mick Jackson, a director of Skills for Logistics explains, logistics is a sector with a unique set of problems: “For a start, we are faced with reaching a common definition of what logistics actually means. Logistics is all things to all men, and underpins all different sectors – it’s as broad as everything involved in moving goods from one place to another, which makes it hard to define.”
It is also a sector with a number of different structures: many large companies have their ‘own account’ logistics operations (including lorry drivers, warehouse and transport office staff, for example) while others outsource the movement and handling of goods to specialist third party companies. These third party specialists can be anything from major international firms to small businesses.
So how do you go about attempting to tackle a massive skills shortage affecting an entire – and complicated – sector? “The first step was to work with employers to identify the root causes of the problem,” explains Dr Jackson. “We quickly identified these as the poor image of the industry, a lack of diversity, gaps in the supply of training, and, most fundamentally, a lack of career development structure. This has meant that logistics has tended to be seen as a job rather than a career, and has had difficulty in attracting recruits.”
Jackson explains further: “If you take the skills mix of a logistics employee, it splits into what we call core skills, craft skills and supply chain specific skills. Traditionally, operatives have been trained to be good at craft skills – such as how to be a good driver, how to reverse a lorry – but we haven’t taught them core skills such as customer service, communicating, handling change. These had been seen as management skills, but actually they are required for operatives to do their job well, in addition to preparing them to make the step from operations to management.”
Having identified many of the existing shortfalls, Skills for Logistics set one overriding objective for a career development framework: to help the logistics sector to move away from being an ad hoc buyer of training to a focus on Continuous Professional Development.
Any framework the organisation produced would need to meet two golden rules: one, CPD would need to be carried out by line managers, and be integral to a company’s operations: two, if CPD was to happen proactively, it would need a game-board on which to play. The Professional Development Stairway, as Skills for Logistics branded its framework, was created to provide this game-board.
Faced with such a daunting challenge, Skills for Logistics decided to break up the task. It started by trying to tie down one of the many dimensions of a career in logistics – for example a single career framework to go across one aspect of the logistics industry, regardless of the market sector being served.
In September 2004, the organisation ran four workshops with logistics employers to nail down the types of jobs in the industry – driving, warehouse, distribution/admin and management. The results of these workshops led to the first draft of a Professional Development Stairway with 11 ‘Steps’ – levels of seniority, from apprentice to Director.
To understand how its first draft would be received by the industry, Jackson and his team began a major consultation exercise, consisting of detailed discussions with more than 60 companies so far, including numerous multinationals and many of the major haulage companies, representing seven supply chains. These consultations provided some changes to the initial model (there are 12 steps on the latest version of the stairway, rather than the original 11, for example).
Jackson believes that, to date, the consultation exercise has justified Skills for Logistics’ approach to creating the Stairway: “In most of the companies we’ve spoken to, training and development is a ‘nice to have’ rather than a necessity. Out of the 60 companies we’ve spoken to – many of them big, household names – only five have had full top to bottom CPD frameworks in place.”
He continues: “The success of the framework – and skills improvement in logistics more generally – relies on two factors: relevance and consistency. Training needs to be relevant to the job – which often it currently isn’t – and consistent across the country. Skills for Logistics is recommending we move towards a hub and spoke delivery model, with a logistics academy in each region across the country (to ensure consistency), linking to a central national logistics academy, that will set a national curriculum and delivery standards.”
The development of CPD in the logistics industry has reached a major milestone with the Stairway available to all interested parties via a dedicated new website: www.thestairway.org. Skills for Logistics are also finalising the set-up of trials with major employers in the industry, who will test the Stairway in demonstration projects over the next six months, to ensure it meets their CPD needs in a live environment.
But Jackson is keen to emphasise that the work isn’t complete yet: “The Professional Development Stairway will never be completely finished, as it will keep evolving. The next really big development is to link in formal qualifications at each step. Initial discussions with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority have been positive, but there are many gaps we need to fill by creating new qualifications. We hope to have a full qualification framework by summer 2006, with the qualifications ready to go by summer 2007.”
With the framework in place, and a full set of qualifications tied into it, there is hope that potential recruits will see logistics as a real career option, rather than just a job – a major hurdle to overcome if the skills gap is to be narrowed.