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Logistics and Distribution
As an organisation that is highly dependent on its skilled logistics staff, the Armed Forces represents a valuable source of suitably qualified professionals equipped to move in to the nationally important field of logistics and distribution. Could it be the logical next step for you too?
Logistics works to ensure that the right goods are in the right place at the right time. It covers the movement and supply of goods – from raw materials, through all stages of the manufacturing process, to final delivery of the finished product to companies and consumers. The overarching term ‘logistics’ actually embraces a vast array of different industries that work across all types of transport and a variety of supply chains. It is very often an ‘invisible’ industry, despite the fact that it underpins the UK economy, and includes the planning, routing and movement of freight across all transport modes, as well as associated activities such as warehousing and storage, removals, freight forwarding and wholesaling.
GETTING THINGS MOVING
The logistics/supply chain industry can be broken down into:
- freight transportation
- maritime and port operations
- postal and courier activities
- warehousing, storage and handling.
Freight logistics companies fall into two groups:
- those that manage their own logistics system, known as ‘own account operators’, and
- those that manage logistics on behalf of another company.
The latter organisations are often referred to as hauliers or third-party logistics providers (3PL – see box).
WHAT IS 3PL?
Many companies now outsource their logistics, or elements of this, to third-party logistics (3PL) providers. These subcontracted services can include:
- primary and secondary transport and distribution
- inbound logistics and consolidation
- inventory management
- order processing and case/unit picking
- invoice and management reporting.
Thanks in particular to the increase in online shopping (especially recently), logistics and supply chain management is a growth area. Retail giant Amazon has already rolled out its own network across the UK, with Amazon Logistics delivering goods direct to consumers. Other big-name brands, including Sainsbury’s, John Lewis, Tesco and Aldi, have enlisted the services of specialist multi-channel retail logistics and supply chain companies to manage their retail logistics and handle supply chain management. And, as the UK maritime sector plays a significant role in the global industry, there’s demand for engineers, surveyors, mechanics, and ship managers too – which spells significant opportunities for RN leavers.
Although this article doesn’t deal with transport – for more on that, see our feature here – it is almost impossible to separate it from other parts of the supply chain. It has to be an integrated operation if it is to be successful – a principle that will be familiar to you if you have spent any time in Services logistics. Many qualifications (see below) include all parts of the supply chain.
These days, e-management of supply chains is usually the norm, with IT and electronic communications becoming key competencies for logistics managers, and the supply chain at the heart of many e-commerce developments. Smart warehousing involves having minimum holdings while satisfying customer expectations.
The industry is suffering from major skills shortages in some areas, in particular HGV drivers (see ‘Finding employment’, below). Skills gaps have also been identified among junior and middle managers, and the supply chain management credentials of more senior managers are currently under examination, too. The good news is that major employers offer significant training to their staff.
Skill up while serving
Maybe you are already one of the Armed Forces’ highly trained and experienced logisticians, who support operations, training and exercises, unit moves, static bases, war stocks and equipment pools? Such people usually work in Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), the MoD’s procurement and support organisation, on ships and in ports, in Army formations, and on air stations and detachments, to turn plans into reality.
Every unit has its own logistics staff, performing exactly the same functions but at a lower level. They manage and deliver the essentials of fuel, ammunition, water, food, clothing and personal equipment to the people actually involved in operations. They may have ranks and job titles that are peculiar to a single Service, and in many cases they have enough experience to gain qualifications – usually vocational ones – in the logistics field.
Each unit and sub-unit also has a host of people who carry out many logistics functions as an integral part of their everyday work, although they would probably never dream of calling themselves logisticians. Many other military people are also concerned with logistics although they do not themselves run facilities. If you are one of them, you may be involved with research, design, trials and tests, project management, procurement, development, maintenance, finance, training, and so on.
When you start your resettlement, you will find that there are a number of providers offering training, as well as Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the UK (CILTUK) courses in transport and logistics management, and supply chain management, available via the CTP. Check the CTP website for more information. It’s important to get qualifications that will remain valid in the months and years ahead, as logistics and its qualifications are changing rapidly.
There are five main routes to the upper reaches of the logistics industry:
- graduate training
- postgraduate entry
- with management experience
- school (or young Service) leavers
- professional qualifications.
Graduate training entrants join management training programmes run by employers, and will then often take the professional qualifications of the relevant institute.
Postgraduate entry applicants will have completed an MSc or an MBA. Those without a first degree can often enter a postgraduate programme provided that they are up to the academic demands of the course.
Graduates with management experience may well see transport and logistics as their logical next career step and will need to gain the extra knowledge to make it possible.
If you already have A-levels, you may want to start work at once. In which case your best route into management might well be on-the-job experience.
Professional qualifications must reflect the needs of the profession and employers, so they are under frequent scrutiny to ensure they are relevant and provide the right standards. They can enable people like you to translate your Service skills into their civilian equivalents.
CILT and the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) offer qualifications at a number of levels that are valued in the industry. Both institutes will allow exemptions to various levels of qualification and individual subjects based on prior learning and experience.
Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) in the UK
CILT is the independent professional body for individuals associated with logistics, supply chains and all transport throughout their careers. It offers a number of qualifications, most of which can be studied as stand-alone units). Whatever level you’re currently at, CILT provides details of relevant transport and logistics courses to progress your career. Visit the CILT website for full and up-to-date details.
TRANSLATE YOUR SKILLS
Whatever the entry route, the following personal qualities are valued in this field.
Core technology skills:
- IT literacy
- warehousing – engineering
- warehouse management
- problem solving
- team building
- decision making.
- decision making.
Logistics and transport jobs
Visit the CILT jobs board
Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply
CIPS is the world’s largest procurement and supply professional organisation. It is the worldwide centre of excellence for procurement and supply management issues. It offers a portfolio of professional qualifications. To find out about these in more detail, check out the in-depth guide here
Although there are relatively few logistics vocational qualifications, there are many units that are relevant to logistics in vocational qualifications offered by the Services. Higher National, and National Certificates and Diplomas can also be gained through part-time study. Visit an education centre or local college to find out the necessary information.
Use your ELC
Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELCAS website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on the Quest website
ADAPTABLE LOGISTICS LEARNING
In an effort to help its student members continue their studies despite the ongoing effects of the pandemic, CILTUK has in many cases been able to switch to online lessons. It has also developed more flexible solutions to assessment, allowing both assignment and exam-based testing solutions. To facilitate this, it has established a Distance Learning Centre, which offers qualifications at levels 1–7. These distance learning qualifications are recognised and accredited by the UK Government through Ofqual, and see each student assigned a mentor and materials issued by correspondence.
Other training providers have followed suit, expanding their own virtual learning platforms in a similar way. However, when enquiring about courses, be sure to confirm with them the measures they have in place to enable you to proceed with your studies.
With the huge variety of logistics jobs available, it is possible to highlight only a few areas of employment here that you might consider.
- Manufacturing makes great use of just-in-time (JIT) management to cut unnecessary costs, with materials arriving in the right quantities and at the right times to meet production schedules, and finished goods despatched to customers.
- Retailing – and especially online retailing, as mentioned above – is a very competitive business and the supply chain for a major outlet has to be carefully managed to maintain profit margins.
- Logistics service provision is a growth area as more organisations outsource some or all of their logistic support, so that customer satisfaction will be a prime goal of the service company.
- Consultancy offers opportunities for experienced logisticians to work either in-house or for an external business, to advise clients on supply chain matters.
Prospects for employment are good. Even before the supply chain problems of 2021 took hold, industry insiders were pointing out that the UK freight transport sector was heading for a massive shortfall in personnel. With this in mind, a number of training companies are focusing on helping Service leavers prepare to enter the industry.You should also note that logistics is a very broad field, and any company or department specialising in it will also need staff working in the administrative, financial, IT, human resources and marketing functions. A background in logistics is now accepted as a basis for career development in general management and a board-level position in a major company. Those with work experience in a similar field (such as roles within the Armed Forces) often have an advantage, as there’s a tendency for employers to recruit experienced staff looking to change employer rather than newly qualified graduates without experience. Some of the larger organisations do, however, offer formal work experience through industrial placements of up to one year or internships during the summer break.
As the majority of logistics organisations are SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), they don’t usually advertise formal internships or work placements, but you can still approach them to enquire whether they have anything available.
Otherwise, much (including salaries) depends on the area of the industry and the size of the organisation.
For information about related careers in road transport driving, take a look at our feature here
To view a full list of logistics and distribution-related training courses, click here