Transport, A World of Logistics

The days where any self-respecting individual heard the words Transport Management and shuddered at the prospect of managing in an environment that smacked of cold, damp portakabins, a yard bedecked in dank water-filled potholes, with the risk of getting covered in oil amid the heady perfume of spent diesel fuel biting at their throats are consigned to the annals of a bygone age. Today, transport management is better understood as Logistics Management, it is a challenging and highly demanding industry that knows no time frames, nationalities or boundaries. 

Logistics has been around for longer than many understand. Its origin comes from the Greek 'Logistikos', from which the Latin 'Logisticus' was derived. The Latin root 'log' evolved into the French word 'loger' (to lodge), with its original use being within the military, and can be traced back to the 17th Century (Circa 1670).  

Military restructuring under Louis XIV resulted in the logistics position of Marechal General de Logis (Quartermaster General), and 'logistics' (La Logistique) was coined from the name of this position by Baron Antoine Henri Jomni a staff officer serving under Napoleon. Today the word Logistics can be equally considered as:

  • The science of the movement and maintenance of military forces. 
  • The management of material flow through an organisation. 
  • The detailed planning and organisation of any large complex operation. 

With the original meaning of the word being to Reason Mathematically, it can be wholly understood why Logistics in today’s Transport and warehousing environments is such a complex and demanding industry. Without the skills of those that work within it, today's businesses would not prosper to the degree they have over this past 50 years, and for that matter, neither would the industrialised nations they call home. 

What follows within this section is an overview of the many aspects of Transport/Logistics Management which are applicable to us all. 

Careers in the Industry 

The images that are associated with a bygone era still loom large in the minds of many when it comes to considering a career within the world of Logistics. For those who choose the path into the industry, there are many Universities throughout the United Kingdom where a degree can be studied for in many logistics subjects, from Supply Chain Management through to Accounting & Logistics. It is therefore evident that other disciplines, such as HR, H&S, IT and Accountancy also offer opportunities to embark upon a career within the industry. 

Unlike any other career path, it should be noted before embarking upon the same, that the industry is not for the faint-hearted. It is by its very nature a 24/7, all-weather, all location operation, where the ability to think on your feet, manage people efficiently and handle the stress levels usually associated with airline pilots should be considered the norm.  

Although the industry is both physically and mentally demanding, it's varied and daily challenges are unlikely to be found in any other industry as each day will see 'goalposts' being moved on a regular basis, leaving your thought process always simmering on the 'back burner', mindful that contingencies may be required and invariably are. 

Although a path into the industry can be had via the University system, this is not the only route that can be followed. Companies are always mindful that there are bright individuals working at the 'coalface' who are able to think on their feet and don't panic when the going gets tough. The fact that these individuals don't have a degree qualification doesn't prevent them from enjoying a successful career with a path that leads to the boardroom. Many have achieved that goal and today are still a driving force in their respective organisations. 

Transport/Logistics professionals who have come from behind the wheel of a truck, have in many cases a better understanding of man and vehicle management, which has come from a time served an apprenticeship and isn't attainable from the pages of any manual. There are many in key positions throughout our industry who have carved successful career paths.  

There's no argument here if you can think 'outside the box', are not afraid of getting your hands dirty and are prepared to step up to the challenge, Transport/Logistics is the best industry in the world for a career with long term prospects and genuine career satisfaction. 

The Transport Function 

Regardless of whether a product is being moved by plane, boat or train, the beginning and end of the journey (from factory gate to end-user) is by Road Transport. However, the degree of difficulty for individual roles will vary according to the type of operation that the person works within.  

For those managing a transport department within the manufacturing/processing sectors, it can sometimes prove to be exasperating. The reasons for this is simply that these companies core business is not transport and with their transport department consuming up to 20% of its annual turnover, it's invariably looked upon for cost reduction and is largely the 'whipping boy' for the sales force who have a tendency of making promises that transport struggle to (or cannot) keep. 

Every transport operator faces similar problems on a daily basis, from slot times at RDC's, airports and docks; 'timed windows' at manufacturers, hotels, restaurants, shops and the end-users home, to the everyday reality of staff being sick, vehicles breaking down, and road hold-ups due to accidents or major roadworks. Couple these everyday logistical problems to the same major hurdle that all operators face - that of a minefield of legislation - and it becomes immediately apparent why scheduling a vehicle fleet and maintaining stringent service levels can prove to be difficult. 

Meeting the challenge of maintaining high service levels and returning a commercial profit is demanding to say the least, however, the satisfaction of achieving those goals is as equally rewarding as the bonuses that it can bring. The busy transport office of yesteryear has slowly been replaced with a lower headcount and a need for logistics professionals to be fully conversant in IT skills as trucks are today driven by a computer. The industry has become virtually dominated by IT with not only the consignment on the road tracked by computer but every function in the warehouse domain being managed via systems as well. 

The Future of Our Industry 

For tomorrow’s professional logistician, the future is undoubtedly going to be a challenging one, especially when considering the environmental impact that the industry has. Transports previous non-eco-friendly image was understandable 30+ years ago, but that cannot be said of it today. Truck manufacturers have moved mountains in cutting carbon emissions through heavy investment into the Euro Engine specifications we know of today. Equally so, the industry itself has done much in improving its own image by working in partnership with manufacturers to produce electric or hybrid vehicles, and much more is being committed to the development of alternate fuels such as bio-diesel. 

Although we have seen an increase in the number of cars on the roads of the UK, which currently stands in the order of 35 million, there has been a decline in the number of heavy trucks over the past 2 decades. This has been as a result of the ability of vehicles to carry heavier payloads and it is likely that this situation will continue.  

Despite the protestations of the environmentalists, the benefits of running 'road trains' on motorway trunk routes can only have significant benefits in terms of carbon emissions, fuel consumption and cost.  

The need to improve the road infrastructure in the UK is paramount, with certain areas such as the entire length of the South Coast being in desperate need of investment. If we are to continue feeding the consumer need in this country, it will only be achieved by whatever government at the time talking to our industry representatives and listening to an industry that knows not only what is best for itself, but equally what is best for the country as a whole and equally how it can be achieved. 

The following links will take you to additional information. 

Heavy-Duty Truck and Bus Engines -