Forging Different Career Paths in the Logistics Industry

Panelists on this 2023 FIATA World Congress panel were Tej Contractor, FIATA ABIT (Advisory Body on Information Technology) Chair, Catrien Scheers, Fast Lines Group CEO, Tia Meyvis, Director IT and Innovation at Ahlers, Daniella Smal, Managing Director of Pro-Africa in Zambia, and Carole Lamarque, Dubal Union Marketing CEO, with Professor Christa Sys from the University of Antwerp moderating.

Prior to the session, panelists were asked which problem they would solve in the world, and the skill they need to have to solve it. Mr Contractor's first question to the audience was 'What is a freight forwarder's favourite type of humour?' - Answer: Logistics! He explained "The biggest issue we have in the sector is lack of training, and the second is penetration of learning across the world." He shared that when he graduated, he told his father that he was well and truly "done with learning", but in fact today he learns more than ever before. "There is also a need for constant upscaling, and there is importance in that. You need to be better than the day before."

Catrien Scheers first raised the fact that the day of the session was 'Teachers Day', which the audience celebrated with an applause. Ms Scheers shared of the problem she would like to solve, describing it as a bit like flying to the moon, namely, a problem with visibility. "Logistics happens around us all but we don't know where our products come from". She therefore dreams of a universal SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) type label, based on the UN SDG goals. "Labels on phones are smarter than ones they went to the moon with." She described that labeling is important to her, and many others, because she wants to know where her product comes from, all the parts included, as well all the freight forwarders involved, etc.

Tia Meyvis shared that her problem to be solved is similar to Mr Contractor's with regards upscaling. A lot of children don't have the opportunity to go to elementary school, and even more don't have access to high schools, and that well-educated teachers are lacking. She would provide better education access to all, no matter their region or culture.

Daniella Smal also followed on the same vein of education, sharing that she hopes for an extended education system in which people can also learn about cultures and countries, as she feels that there is a bias and difficulty in the current global sitation, with a lack of mutual respect and responsibility for each other.

Carole Lamarque said that for her, communication needs to be stronger, faster, and more innovative between companies and their clients, and potential clients. During and after the crises in the last years, with a wave of them coming at once, communications needed to be at their peak, but this was not always the case. "People can easily get lost in the timeline without clear communications".

Ms Lamarque who has ample experience in Marketing, a deep knowledge of disruptive innovation from the IT sector, and is on the Board of Directors of the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, and Antwerp Chamber of Commerce, gave a short talk on workforce, careers and education. She shared that she advocates for the power of new inspiration, and the need for inspiration to come from other sectors with different perspectives. "'To live happily is to live hidden' - the heart and soul of any industry is people." She shared that the logistics sector needs to become more magnetic than it currently is for employees, and that everyone in the sector is currently fighting for people and a workforce. The employer thus needs an ability to embrace change, a new mindset, new insights, the latest Marketing know-how and new types of communication. "Today's job market is moving in a seismic way, and we have many generations involved. There are more jobs available than candidates."

"How does it affect talent acquisition?" she asked. "Generation Z make up the majority of current applications and candidates. They care about an attractive salary, company culture, and corporate-social responsibility. Creating a positive societal impact is not just as a response to regulation, but if you take this aside, it's about attracting and retaining Gen-Z. So why do SDGs matter? A staggering 95% of Gen-Zs would leave a job and seek another company just because it is not in sync with their values. 40% are considering job-hopping for sustainability reasons alone, and 72% would consider leaving a company for reasons of inclusivity."

"SDGs thus shape the attractivity of your company, and contribute to reputation and long-term success. Communicating your company's committment to SDGs is not just important, it's imperative."

"50% of Gen-Zs seek job opportunities on their mobile phones, 85% evaluate your brand online, and social media is used in 35% of cases as a source to finding new jobs. The novelty of your digital strategy is also very important, do you have a map of your candidate's ideal journey, do you harness the power of social media? This generation is mainly on TikTok! When it comes to seeking new employees, the best recruitment procedure is no recruitment procedure. For example, in 2021, UPS had to employ 100,000 seasonal workers in 3 months. It was their dedication to enhancing the candidate process via digital means that made this happen."

Catrien Scheers answered the question about attracting a skilled laborforce. She responded that power for change is in everyone's hands "We should work smarter, embrace technology and embrace change."

Moderator Christa Sys, Professor at the University of Antwerp, asked whether with regards to inclusivity, the sector is sufficiently diverse. Ms Scheers responded that there is still lots of work to be done. We should all lead by example, and not fish in the same pond.

Tia Ahlers' advice to young people is firstly to pursue networking, in AND out of your field of expertise, to meet mentors and advisors, improve soft skills, and gain self-confidence. Secondly, if young logisticians are not yet set-up with one, she suggests they seek out a mentor, listing their career goals to consider their path forward. Thirdly "keep learning, get new expertise, and meet people with the same interests, which will sharpen your mind. Henry Ford once said "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80, but anyone who keeps learning stays young; the greatest thing is to keep your mind." Her final tip is to keep taking initiative.

She also mentioned that companies need to offer training on how to network, because many young people are afraid of initiating conversations with people who are older. The confidence needs to come with experience and tips on how to network, such as taking a colleague to events so as to not be alone.

Daniella Smal was asked how to guide young professionals, and apply it to a regional level. She shared her experiences of advanced technologies in Europe which she has never experienced in her home nation, and linked this to personal growth, saying "Any opportunity to grow is very valuable in our culture, people go out of their way to learn something new. The ability to learn things and get to know people, and to have an education is a huge privilege in Zambia." She shared that her degree had taught her nothing compared to her work and what she has experienced, attaining key skills on the job.

Tej Contractor was then asked to share on the topic of digitalisation, and particularly the involvement of Artificial Intelligence. Moderator Professor Sys asked "What is everyone talking about when they say logistics jobs are being taken over potentially by AI? A Port of Antwerp study shows which jobs would disappear with the increase of AI, and logistics jobs were one of the first to disappear." Mr Contractor shared that his company had created a Chatbot telling interns exactly what they need to do on the job, and they played a logistics game similar to Monopoly, which simulated real-life working conditions in the logistics sector. This also had questions which were based on their expectations and roles.

"Digitalisation has been here for 20 years, interoperability is however the problem. Predictive analysis, analytics and forecasting are key and the Internet of Things (IOT) is going to change the way we work. When you deal with re-fill cargo or cargo sensitive to damage, IOT can be used with realtime data. The costs are a bit prohibitive, but AI is everything today, and will revolutionise logistics the way we know it. We need to become efficient in our work." Mr Contractor runs an IT company too, alongside his logisitcs business, and he shared of a current project where they are extracting data from invoices, and having customs declarations prepared automatically.


What are the key skills for a successful career in logistics?

Discussing the poll question about the key to a successful logistics career, the panel agreed that of key importance is looking at who is in front of you and at what matters to them, being empathetic, understanding what they need to hear, and to have passion in your audience. This will help a freight forwarder to best gauge their audience and communicate well.

With regards to the main challenges of a career in logistics, agility came up as a key word from the audience, with panelists each highlighting one thing they resonated with the most: Ms Smal - learning new challenges, adaptability, Mr Contractor - adaptability and evolution, Ms Meyvis - speed and Ms Scheer - values, which are what makes you different to a competitor, with Professor Sys concluding the session saying that communication of these values to your audience is key.