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Human Resources & Logistics

A Book Review About Logistics Personnel

by Alan Law

The Growth and Development of Logistics Personnel. Council of Logistics Management, Oak Brook. Keller, K. (ed.) (1999)

The Growth and Development of Logistics Personnel provides a comprehensive description of knowledge, skills, competencies and work activities for an impressive range of logistics occupational categories or “job families” commonly found in the field of logistics. Spanning organizational levels and core logistics functions, this work is an outstanding contribution to the growing literature on the dynamics of logistics jobs and careers pursued by North American logistics personnel.

The book opens with clear messages about the overall need for logistics agencies to concentrate on enhancement of their personnel through training in order to maintain competitive edge. Echoing claims made by contemporary authors and practitioners, our attention is directed to the importance of the two-way relationship between personnel and their employers. The message is clear: organizational relationships driven by technology and competition emphasize the importance of “employability” skills for personnel over narrowly defined and task specific knowledges.

Consistent with research conducted on behalf of the Canadian Professional Logistics Institute during 1996 and 1997, changes in organizational structures have meant that vertical “promotion” is declining as an effective way to leverage benefit from highly skilled people. Career mobility is increasingly horizontal between and within organizations in the supply chain. Retaining the loyalty of personnel increasingly depends on the capability to supply skills, deliverable by a wide range of agencies internal and external to employing organizations. Logistics organizations compete for work, they also compete for people. The complexity and intensity of demands made on logistics personnel from the warehouse floor to the board room, means new job structures, skill requirements and opportunities – certainly exciting, certainly challenging for personnel and their employers alike.

The book proceeds to an impressively detailed description of competencies, job requirements and job training needs for 22 “job families” derived from the deployment of Personnel Systems and Technologies Corporation’s proprietary Common Metric Questionnaire (CMQ) and Common Metric System (CMS). Use of the CMQ and CMS enabled clustering of job categories by virtue of related tasks and competencies. The total effect of this approach has been the provision of a methodologically robust and sufficiently detailed tool for managers and human resource professionals to help develop training plans and job descriptions, among other potential uses.

In addition to its potential for practical utility, the book provides added fuel for much needed further strategic research in logistics human resources. In the view of this writer, those needs centre on at least three inter-related themes.

Establishment and maintenance of training in team skills throughout an organization (and, just as importantly, between organizations) is difficult. As many senior logistics professionals know, technical skills are easier to build than team skills. Recruitment often involves screening for personality traits to identify team players. The problem is that these people are needed in large numbers and competition for them is intensifying. Screening out or screening down those without an existing portfolio of those skills could certainly reduce the available pool and potentially raise the price of those skills. Delivery of effective team skills could be a competitive edge for aggressive employers. How do we most effectively build team skills throughout an organization, making them a key and deliverable business competency?

High and increasing horizontal career mobility makes training expensive. Regionalized training methods are difficult to employ in competitive environments. The “revolving door” certainly needs to be facilitated, but how is this best accomplished when today’s supply chain partner is tomorrow’s competitor? Is it really possible to strategically construct a coherent career outside of the walls of an organization? What roles should be played, and by whom, to maximize benefits to all concerned?

Supply chain relationships are human relationships situated in complex ethical environments. Increasing autonomy and mobility of logistics personnel at all levels exponentially increases the number of relationship variables that have to be juggled. How do logistics personnel negotiate the rocky terrain of “good/right” decisions when it is sometimes difficult and often irrelevant to tell friend from foe in open logistics inter-organizational systems?

The Council of Logistics Management in association with Mississippi State University has produced a fine piece of work that succeeds in its intent to demonstrate and deliver a process for identifying many job requirements and training needs. It also succeeds in adding support for much needed work in a number of critical areas. This is a good book well worth the price of entry.