The world’s experts in the logistics industry will arrive in Cape Town next week to attend the annual FIATA (International Federation of Freight Forwarders’ Association) World Congress. The event is being hosted at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from 1-5 October 2019.
One of the topics to be discussed is the skills shortage faced by the logistics industry. There is widespread concern about this shortage and yet there are two seemingly conflicting factors at play in this space. One is that there is a definite shortage of such skills – especially in South Africa – and the other is that with the rise of automation, many jobs could potentially be lost to robots. So, will this ultimately amount to a zero-sum game?
Not according to Barry Vorster, a partner at PwC South Africa and speaker at the FIATA Congress, who says that firstly, the job shortage in the sector is significant and growing globally as increased volumes of goods are being moved around the world.
Secondly, he holds the opinion that while it is predicted that 50% of jobs will be automated in the transport, storage and manufacturing industries by 2037, there will simultaneously be an increase in demand for people who can build, programme and maintain robotic workers.
“Consider what’s happening in mining where more and more of the previously unskilled labour force now needs to work with sophisticated equipment underground, including large excavators and remotely controlled trucks. We’ll see a similar shift happening in transport and logistics,” Vorster reckons.
With the wave of automation that’s already shaking up the logistics and transportation industry, it is business that will have to take the lead in up-skilling people in order to deal with these changes. But, there’s a problem.
“While it’s clear that existing staff will need to be up-skilled, no one knows for sure what those skills are yet. The problem is that the CEOs of most organisations are apprehensive with regards to developing future skills. They know different skills are needed but don’t know exactly what these are. They can’t just easily pinpoint who to up-skill and what should be taught,” says Vorster.
Preparing the workforce of tomorrow for the required skills has to start at school level and in South Africa, there is a challenge in delivering quality education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. Adaptability and problem solving, along with digital capabilities, are also crucial skills to try to engender in the youth.
Universities also have a role to play but Vorster says it is businesses that will really need to step up to the plate when it comes to up-skilling the existing global workforce.
“IBM brought out a report stating that 120-million people need to be trained over the next three years to be ready for automation. Currently, universities will not be able to accommodate this large number of students. Therefore, this will have to rest with organisations to do the largest amount of heavy lifting in ways we never have before,” says Vorster.
He adds that there will be social and other pressures on organisations to look after people and part of that is training them to prepare them for the jobs of the future. “Ultimately, it’s beneficial for the industry and business.”
This year’s annual FIATA congress is organised in conjunction with The South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF) and will serve as an international platform for industry leaders to discuss sustainable solutions within the freight forwarding and transport sector in Africa. Check it out here: https://fiata2019.org.