If you ask senior managers in the third party logistics services profession in the United States how they got into the industry, the answer you’ll often get is “I fell into the business.”
When these executives finished their educations 15 to 20, or even more, years ago, they weren’t thinking about pursuing a career in freight transportation, unless they had previous exposure through a summer job, military, family member or friend. Many stumbled into the field, and those who stayed for the long run were simply hooked.
Unlike the legal, medical and engineering fields, the logistics and distribution industry — also frequently referred to as supply chain management — failed to project itself as an exciting career path for young people. Mention of it conjures images of driving trucks and shuttling cargo around a warehouse in most minds. Although those already in the industry know supply chain management involves much more than that.
On top of this, most logistics companies are neither household names in the United States nor a producer of physical goods, whereas large manufacturers, like Ford, General Electric, and DuPont, and retailers, such as Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, and Home Depot, dominate with their recognizable brands and products. Young graduates are naturally attracted to industries that have status or are publicly recognized.
Besides UPS and FedEx, does anyone have a clue what a 3PL does?
One of the attributes of the logistics industry has been its social mobility. Someone can start out as a forklift driver and eventually work their way up to vice president or even chief executive officer. But those days will likely become rarer as supply chains become more global and complex. The blend of engineering, business, communications, finance, compliance and management skills required to manage these networks will place a premium on professional education. That’s not to say people won’t be able to work their way from the dock floor to the C-suite, but they will likely have to go back to school to bolster their skill set.
It should also be noted that there is no single way to achieve the right set of skills. You can go to an engineering school and learn about optimizing goods distribution. But some leaders, such as Transplace CEO Tom Sanderson, say they’re happy to get well-rounded candidates who have studied history, literature, and economics, without going overboard on supply chain courses.
“We can teach them our business,” Sanderson said.
Students would be better served by gaining some leadership experience in high school or college, Sanderson told a large audience at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ conference in Atlanta.
However, as John Pattullo, former CEO of CEVA Logistics, correctly put it (see this issue’s cover story
): “We’re in a war for talent,” as 3PLs compete for the brightest graduates entering the workforce.
Working in the industry’s favor now, is the evolution among American universities of graduate and post-graduate degree programs that focus on supply chain management. Yet, these schools must still do a better job attracting the best and brightest students, making supply chain management as sexy as traditional majors like business and finance.
Hopefully in the near future, we’ll see more and more top achievers entering the industry through the front door rather than backing their way in.