The logistics sector is undergoing monumental change, both from a technological and global standpoint.

While the advent of artificial intelligence is set to prove a major disruptor, a new set of dynamics in terms of the world’s economy and environmental conditions is already impacting supply chains.

The Panama Canal, for example, experienced low water levels during the region’s driest October in 73 years and, according to a South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF) report of 3 November, reservation slots and new operational measures will be in place until February next year.

The switch to electric vehicles is also placing more focus on Africa. SAAFF says several countries, among them the US, are working on developing the Lobito Corridor, a new rail line project in central Africa intended to create a trade route for minerals used in new energy vehicle production.

Unfortunately, amid this change, the supply chain industry is battling a significant skills shortage which the Harvard Business Review states is occurring right across the board, “from more manual tasks, such as warehouse order picking, to building and maintain supply chain systems”.

Clare Tonkin, national human resources manager for Bidvest International Logistics (BIL), says companies are at risk of becoming irrelevant if shortfalls result in clients’ service needs not being met.
“It’s quite a niche environment. In South Africa, customs compliance is especially concerning with regard to skills shortages. From my perspective, for as long as I can remember we have been speaking about a skills shortfall.”

BIL colleague and National HR manager for Overland Logistics Veren Jackpersad says in light of the current situation, it has become crucial for companies to develop talent pools, both for the present and future.

This starts with a creative recruitment approach that allows for wider attraction of the market.

“Much of this is done so via learnerships, graduate and training programmes designed in-house to address specific needs,” he says.

“There also needs to be a process of multiskilling the current workforce via reskilling, or training to move into different roles, and upskilling, which speaks to training to improve one’s job. Furthermore, companies need to develop and implement effective reward and retention strategies that are relevant to the greater workforce.”

Creating an agile, hybrid workforce as well as investing in digitalisation and internal/external CSI initiatives such as youth-focused study loans and internships are additional ways to develop talent.

“Utilising technology in a host of mediums to attract talent is also important from a recruitment perspective. In this day and age, talent wants to be recognised in a seamless, efficient manner, and that is mainly digital. Companies need to give prospective candidates an overwhelming experience from the get-go.”

Tonkin says several logistics and supply chain associations focus on industry training.

“As tech and AI evolve we need to ensure that we are recruiting the right skills. We should bear in mind that skillsets might not look the same as they were five or 10 years ago.”

Jackpersad notes that all stakeholders must address the skills shortage via a thorough understanding of the problem relevant or applicable to each country, region and place.

“Understandably, some countries have evolved into the digital sphere of the industry in which human beings aren’t required at a level of 100%. However, the landscape of receiving countries could be considerably different.”