As with many industries, logistics and supply chain management (SCM) is not something that can be easily learnt from a textbook or in the classroom. Many of the skills and know-how in the discrete supply chain functions – purchasing, inventory management, transportation, warehousing, customer service and reverse logistics to name a few – require individuals to have hands-on experience, says Raymon Krishnan, President of the Logistics and Supply Chain Management Society.
“The ‘10,000 hours’ rule is something that is very relevant in this industry,” he explains. “You need to have put in the hours on the job in order to do the job well,” he explains.
However, very few companies have well-defined and structured management trainee programmes in place, and many still adopt a sink or swim approach to new recruits. “Very few such programmes exist and more needs to be done in this area,” Krishnan says.
The logistics and SCM industry is essentially a people business. “As such, training is an important component of developing organisational capability to meet the changing demands of this dynamic industry,” says Wayne Beel, senior vice president of HR, Asia-Pacific, CEVA Logistics.
The SCM industry is a knowledge-based sector that requires depth and understanding that encompasses everything from networks to processes and systems. Such varied roles within the industry mean that several differing training needs will be required; be they professional, execution-based, technical, or cross-border management skills.
With a mission to attract, retain and maximise employees’ potential, Singapore-based YCH Logistics developed a dedicated in-house training team that works closely with department heads to customise effective training programmes for all staff according to their needs.
“We also set up a ‘Wings’ team – made up of subject matter specialists and operations experts who are trained as trainers,” says Margaret Toh, executive director and vice president – India, YCH Group. “They can be mobilised quickly for implementation projects that include training of new teams as well as spread best practices in all YCH offices throughout Asia-Pacific.”
With extensive operations spanning 12 countries across the region, YCH also needed a scalable training and knowledge-sharing platform.
For this, the logistics giant developed a Learning Management System (LMS) that captures and transfers knowledge in a very systematic way, enabling staff to not only pick up department skills but also encourages cross-department learning and sharing.
“The LMS covers comprehensive learning and training modules, from company culture, to department learning such as operations and sales, CEO engagement, and business code of conduct,” says Toh.
Another challenge is up-skilling frontline employees to ensure they are well-equipped with the skills they require to make use of new information systems.
“CEVA undertook a transformational project to unify our freight management systems across geographies to achieve greater efficiency in our processes and enhanced visibility of our supply chain management,” says Beel. “That project required not just training employees on new and improved processes, knowledge and use of new systems, but also the shifting of minds to embrace those changes.”
CEVA conducted structured training at all levels in each country as the two-year project was implemented, enabling staff to feel empowered, and therefore more motivated, to embrace the changes and apply the new processes.
New recuits demand their own particular onboarding, and are typically enrolled in the organisation’s on-the-job training programme where they are attached to a senior peer for at least three months.
On top of that, managers work with their individual staff to identify specific courses that could equip them with additional skills in areas that will enhance their work performance, computing skills for example, or soft skills in customer service.
“Such training and development programmes are important to keep employees motivated and retain good talents, in an industry that has a higher turnover than some other industries,” says Beel.
“For our supervisors and site managers for example, we have leadership training for them to gain practical knowledge on how to handle conflicts, health and safety issues management, crisis handling, and other areas that are relevant to them as leaders.”
Supply chain management is now regarded as a service package rather than just pure technical expertise. As such, skills related to improving the overall service experience to the customer are vital. “This includes areas in key account management, SCM solutions and optimisation, operations and service excellence, as well as cross-border management,” says Toh.
Training and development opportunities are important to engage employees and keep productive and motivated, and further enhance their growth in the company, says Beel.
But still more needs to be done. Workers in the industry are often missing practical skills such as project management and six sigma skills that equip logisticians with the ability to see and understand processes from start to finish, instead of from a silo approach, Krishnan says. “This is becoming increasingly important as part of the trouble-shooter role that logisticians are being asked to play in their organisations today,” he notes.
“Trade compliance expertise in today’s complex supply chain process of getting a product from point A to point B is the easy part,” says Krishnan. “The challenges are trade and regulatory issues such as free trade agreements and duty and customs implications in the localisation of inventory.”
In the area of soft skills, industry professionals need tools like teamwork, planning and organisation abilities, customer handling skills, and problem-solving and presentation skills, he adds.
The Singapore government has support available to help train SCM workers. This comes in the form of grants available through channels such as the Workforce Development Agency (WDA).
These grants are, however, mostly applicable to Singaporeans and permanent residents only. “Due to this, training costs for foreign staff hired are usually higher,” says Beel.
According to Krishnan, one of the biggest challenges in Singapore, is that funding typically only goes to government-linked or approved organisations. “Funding is often tiered whereby a government-linked organisation receives higher funding than a private organisation,” he says. This stifles competition, making it hard for smaller organisations to compete.
“Moving forward, we hope that there will be extended grants for leadership and SCM specialist programmes,” says Toh. “YCH Group is also currently working with International Enterprise Singapore to leverage its manpower immersion programmes to groom SCM talents in regional markets.”
“Much has been done but we certainly have a long journey ahead of us as the industry works to develop future skilled logisticians who will allow Singapore to continue maintaining its position as a leading global logistics hub,” says Krishnan.
The corporate training strategy at CEVA Logistics is two-fold and complementary. At the corporate level, the organisation has a globally-coordinated leadership management and development programme for management leaders. There is also a new global programme to train all site managers around the globe.
“CEVA operates on a global scale in over 170 countries and in more than 1,000 locations supported by 51,000 employees worldwide,” says Wayne Beel, senior vice president of HR, Asia Pacific, CEVA Logistics. “We believe that providing a common platform and framework to train our site managers around the world on key topics and issues that they face will benefit not just the organisation but our customers as well.”
CEVA will be running a pilot three-day ‘Train the Trainer’ programme for all site and station managers across four regions – including one in Singapore for the Asia-Pacific region – towards the end of this year. Topics relevant such as Code of Business Conduct and Compliance, Site Performance Assessments, Effective Communication with Staff, and others will be covered as standard modules.
“At the local level, training and development is managed by local training managers to cover relevant skills and topics to supplement job functions and local country needs,” Beel adds.
Supply chain management and logistics training
Since 2000, the Logistics and Supply Chain Management Society (LSCMS) has conducted vocational, certificate, diploma and masters level programmes. In 2005, the society set up Asia-Pacific’s first warehouse and distribution centre training school in Singapore. This was a purpose-built facility that trained hundreds of logisticians in operating real-live warehouse management systems and materials handling equipment.
“The Society now acts as a conduit for training and development where we work with world class organisations like Technische Universität München and the Australian Logistics Academy to facilitate the training and education needs of logisticians in the Asia-Pacific region,” says Raymon Krishnan, President, LSCMS.