Our industry is always changing. It needs to; increasing consumer demand, pressure to streamline supply chains, reducing cost, implementing legislation, regulation and directives and battling local, national and international competition; we can't stand still.
Perhaps the biggest change, however, will be the so-called 4th industrial revolution epitomised by the global culture of connectivity (rapidly heading for 100% online all of the time for everyone) and automation, which promises to deliver tasks as efficiently (if not more so) than a typical worker.
Arguably the most public and well-known example of automation today is vehicle technology. Everyone's heard of Tesla. No one can find a charging point. Anyway, that's a topic that demands an entirely separate blog!
No, for the time being I'm focused on the example of commercial vehicles. We know that when they crack the infrastructure issue (how does a fully automated vehicle communicate with the world around it?) we'll see trucks driving themselves and a road pilot sitting behind the wheel / joystick / hologram / other. We know the road pilot is unlikely to drive at all (or least only 10-15% of the time) so naturally questions are being asked about what role that person will have in the future.
Will a company want to pay someone to sit in the cab? Will they be required, by law, to have someone sit in the cab? How will a drivers' role change? Will there still be a skills shortage? What about work patterns?
The idea of flexible working has been around for some time now, and as it becomes more the expected norm the world of logistics will open up to a different set of workers. It's perhaps fair to suggest that as the job of driving a truck becomes more redundant that companies will change the skills / requirements of their drivers.
In addition to flexible working the industry needs to react to customer demand. The popularity of online shopping has led to a rise in the number of part-time own-van drivers working non-fixed hours, and this looks unlikely to slow down any time soon. There's talk of heavy trucks being banned completely from cities or areas of dense population, so lighter vehicles or alternative transport methods will be needed to meet demand.
This is likely to lead to more opportunity for effective night-time deliveries in urban areas. These two points (and I'm sure there are others) means that flexible working will actually be encouraged by employers, which of course provides more opportunity for women who've taken a career break or have limited hours for work in the day.
It's also long been the case that a driver is often the only face that a customer sees and so it's likely that this, combined with the reduction in manual labour tasks, will encourage companies to focus more on developing customer service skills and relationship management between suppliers and customers.
I believe the job of a 'driver' will become a more attractive proposition to women (who are traditionally put off by the perception of hard manual work and long hours behind the wheel) and moreover that there should be a real drive (pardon the pun!) to recruit more women to become a road pilot. Let's face it, women naturally apply more empathy and can often read a situation better than most men (sorry chaps, it is true though!). I'm not talking about sales though; the selling has already been done by others before the process of delivery. No, I'm talking about skills such as relationship management, goods / inventory planning and documentation.
Employers should start planning their future workforce now. The opportunity to have a more balanced and effective team is clear to me, and I have no doubt that forward-thinking companies will reap the rewards of investing the time and energy to actively recruit women in logistics.