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Logistics skills gap is hampering South African trade

South Africa is experiencing a widening supply chain skills gap over a short time span, according to a recent survey, which concludes that the skills s...

Freddie Pierce
|May 21|magazine11 min read

South Africa is experiencing a widening supply chain skills gap over a short time span, according to a recent survey, which concludes that the skills shortage is severely impacting the competitiveness of the country’s economy.

According to the 2012 Supply Chain Skills Gap Survey, conducted by University of Johannesburg researchers Rose Luke and Gert Heyns, employers are experiencing difficulty in filling tactical and strategic level positions.

“Employers have indicated that, although operational positions are relatively easy to fill (63% average over both years), around 65% indicated it was difficult to fill tactical level positions.  Strategic level positions are becoming more challenging to fill with 63% indicating difficulties in 2011 and 66% in 2012,” the duo explained.

“The lack of skills is apparent in that although, in terms of logistics performance, South Africa is currently ranked as number 23 in the world, the country’s ability to perform more effectively is largely hampered by logistics competence,” says Luke, citing findings from The World Bank, 2012 (Logistics Performance Index: Connecting to Compete 2012).

“This clearly indicates that skills are an issue within the country, and logistics skills in particular are hampering South Africa’s ability to trade both within the region as well as with other countries and regions,” says Heyns.

“For this reason, it thus becomes critical to identify the logistics skills requirements in South Africa, so that these acute shortages can be addressed to the benefit of trade in and with South Africa and the SADC,” he adds.

A constraint on competitiveness

According to Barloworld Logistics’ 2013 Supply Chain Foresight report, the supply chain skills shortage is viewed as one of the top five constraints to South African supply chains and the single biggest constraint on competitiveness.

Participants in Luke and Heyns’ research identified a list of skills that are in most demand. Those that topped the list included Customer focus, followed closely by Ability to plan and prioritise, and then Business ethics

“It’s interesting that the top 10 highest ranking skills comprise mostly “softer” and broad management skills,” Luke points out.  Meanwhile, Customer focus and the Ability to see the big picture are the two most important logistics awareness skills viewed as essential by respondents.

According to Luke and Heyns, the high importance placed on business ethics may be a reaction to a heightened awareness of corruption and mismanagement that currently pervades society. “Also, the prominence of customer focus in the survey indicates that companies are realising just how important the fact-to-face aspect of the supply chain is,” says Heyns.

While highly educated and skilled individuals are desperately needed in the planning phases of the supply chain, the research confirms the fact that finding, for example, truck drivers who’re also able to interact well with customers, has emerged as an area of great importance.

The importance of the big picture

It is vital also to note that companies are recognising the role that ‘seeing the big picture’ plays in driving greater productivity and effectiveness across the supply chain. “Businesses are placing a high importance on getting all their staff to see the interrelatedness of what they do – that if someone drops the ball, it affects everyone’s work – and therefore to encourage people to perform even better; whether they’re the boss or the driver,” says Luke.

The study also identified a high importance placed on education, particularly by those working at an operational level. A total of 40% of respondents felt that high school education is a must for working in supply chain, further emphasising the importance of the education system in producing what the economy requires.

“The results (of the study) imply that there are significant skills shortages in the supply chain industry in South Africa and that urgent interventions are required to attract and retain the skills needed to operate efficient, effective and competitive supply chains. These severe skills shortages have a significant impact on the competitiveness of South African supply chains and the ability to develop commerce with our major trading partners,” concludes Luke.

Gert Heyns and Rose Luke’s presentation at the SAPICS Conference 2013 is entitled: An Update of the Supply Chain Skills Gap Survey in South Africa.