By Quinton de Villiers
I have often referred to limitations to hard infrastructure as a major risk to South African transport and logistics. However, there is another “softer” threat that has been looming in the shadows for a long time, and is now starting to make its presence known in our specialist industry.
I am referring to a shortage of skills that are needed to operate a successful logistics and supply-chain operation. The dismal state of affairs starts with the ongoing decline of the basic education system in the country.
This article was drafted shortly after Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, released the official 2017 Matric pass rate.
While she claims that the pass rate was just more than 75%, experts argue that this is not a true indication of the status quo, and that the situation remains dire.
If they are to be believed, the real pass rate is actually just less than 40%, taking into consideration the number of students who drop out before completing 12 years of schooling. This finding is based on the cohort pass rate, which is the percentage of second grade learners who successfully completed an additional 11 years of essential schooling.
According to Equal Education, a movement of learners, parents, teachers and community members working for quality and equality in South African education, only 629 155 students actually registered for their matric examinations out of the 1 022 853 who enrolled in grade 2. Just as concerning is the fact that the dropout rate increases from 38,49% to 39,25% when taking into consideration that only 534 484 grade 12 students actually wrote their final year examination.
Some education experts use another model to provide the industry with a more reliable pass rate in 2017.
This approach compares the number of learners who enrolled for grade 10 to those in 2015. Experts point out that there was about a 40% decline in the number of students who enrolled in 2017, compared to 2015.
The outcome of both investigations indicates further erosion of the skills pipeline, compounded by underperforming higher education, as well as a dearth of practical knowledge and skills transfer in the work environment.
This should concern all participants in the transport and logistics industry.
In keeping pace with the latest trends in the constantly evolving supply chain, Bridgewater Logistics is always searching for young and skilled people who can be groomed and coached to help grow the company.
Appropriate education provides the means of obtaining the necessary theory. These skills are then cultivated by experience and practice to contribute towards the triple bottom-line in a multifaceted and multidimensional value chain environment.
Our success is dependent upon people who are able to see the “big picture” and think “out of the box”, in addition to having strong communication skills and the ability to undertake cross-functional co-ordination.
Team members have the ability to plan and prioritise, and possess the capabilities needed to implement business process improvement strategies and make important decisions.
In addition, they display leadership, analytical skills and change-management abilities – all critical traits as South African supply chains continue to develop and mature.
Participants in South Africa’s transport logistics and supply-chain industry can be proud of the fact that they are considered leaders among their BRIC counterparts.
This can largely be attributed to our “soft” infrastructure, namely the skills and capabilities of supply-chain managers and executives.
To preserve this edge, the industry will also have to play a large part in developing those that are needed for the future. This is considering emerging trends that continue to “disrupt” traditional supply-chain models.
Worryingly, more than 40% of supply-chain managers claim that they do not have the skills to function optimally in this environment, where organisations are now also harnessing the power of supply-chain analytics and business intelligence to improve control and visibility.
This relies on accurate reporting and the ability to analyse reports to identify poor performing partners and highlight inefficiencies and weak links in the chain, while identifying opportunities for efficiency improvement, increased collaboration, as well as improved supply chain-cost management.
South African businesses also have the additional pressure of striking that delicate balance that exists between automation and labour-based jobs in a country with such a high unemployment rate. This is essential to improving accuracies and efficiencies in picking and load planning, while this offset will also help support and train lower skilled logistics staff.
In my previous commentary I also noted the growth of e-commerce platforms in South Africa, albeit at a slower rate than countries in the developed world.
Businesses are now feeling the additional stress of facilitating swifter, on-time delivery of purchases.
Third-party logistics service providers will also have to be more efficient and cost-effective, while introducing sophisticated warehousing solutions to operations that provide the necessary accuracy and cater to extremely short timelines. Meanwhile, supplier/partner integration and the ability to supply accurate tracking and delivery status communication to the customer will be a major competitive edge.
Clearly, there is more to our industry than roads, ports and railway lines. It is also time to place our “softer” infrastructure under the microscope to learn how we can better take the lead and step up our initiatives to develop the existing and future skills that drive our economy!
Quinton de Villiers is the founder and managing director of Bridgewater Logistics with a long and impressive track-record in African logistics and security. Follow Quinton at #InTheFastLane for more insights and expert commentary on African transport and logistics.