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Equipping the next generation of supply chain leaders with Alex Eames, South Essex College

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Bonnie Cliff sits down with Alex Eames, Warehousing and Storage Tutor and Assessor at South Essex College, to talk about how to get young people interested in the logistics sector.

Bonnie Cliff (BC): Could you please tell me a bit more about your role at South Essex college?

Alex Eames (AE): I started at South Essex about a year ago now. I'm their Warehousing and Storage Tutor and Assessor. I'm the only person who delivers the subject at the college. On the automation lead part of my job role, we've recently got some government funding to open a warehousing IoT Institute of Technology. And I've been in charge of researching, implementing and resourcing the automation tech that we're going to be putting into that classroom.

BC: I’d hazard a guess the majority of our readers have not had the opportunity to study warehousing in a formal setting at such a young age. How long have warehousing courses been available at South Essex college, and what are they?FetchCarts are integral to the warehousing programme at South Essex College

AE: We started running them about six years ago, and they ran for about three years. Then, the courses weren't on offer for a couple of years at the college because they didn't have anyone with the background in warehousing to deliver the course until I started at the college in January. A lot of what I do revolves around warehousing apprenticeships that run for roughly 12 months.

This warehousing apprenticeship consists of a lot of on the job training. The first six months is all knowledge-based, which means teaching apprentices about health and safety, environmental management, customer service, and information technology systems that can be used in the warehouse environment. We've got a big knowledge base to go over with the apprentices in the first six months of their apprenticeship. Then in the second half of that year, we look at practical skills, for example: obtaining forklifts, counterbalance or reach licenses, observing picking and packing skills, and making sure that our apprentices meet the standards that their workplaces need from them to perform at an optimum level. 

BC: Can you talk a bit more on the split between time spent in the classroom and the practical side of things?

AE: The warehousing and storage apprenticeships are all based on site so the students never have to actually come into the college. I will normally come and sit with them for one or two days a month, especially in the first six months, to teach and deliver coursework to them.

When we get more into the practical skills side in the second six months, it is a lot more hands off. We will bring in outside training companies to deliver licenses and training. And then the rest of that is based around visual observations and assessment within the workplace to make sure they're meeting the standards. The college requirements for off the job training is roughly 20% of apprentices work time. Whether it's with me, in the workplace or by themselves, six to eight hours a week of an apprentice’s work time has to be spent on college work. That means completing study and learning tasks that aren't within their normal responsibilities.

BC: Can you tell me some of the differences between the adult learning programs for people coming back into the education system and the classes geared towards school leavers?

AE: Within the logistics department at South Essex College, we have such a wide age range of learners. We see them starting from 16, and I believe someone else in the department just had a 67 year old finish their course. So we really do have a massive range of ages and diverse groups within our department.

We’ll offer a lot of the level one and level two entry courses to a lot of our school leavers and under 20 year olds. Within the logistics department, I mainly see the youngest students. However, because we cover everything within logistics, some of the other people in our department that deal with HGV training have apprentices that can go all the way up to almost 70 years old. So it is a big, big difference.

We do have to take a bit of a different approach to how we deliver training to a 16 year old compared to a 60 year old so it can be a bit of a challenge, but it's always interesting. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, they say, but I say you can if they're willing to learn!

BC: Has there been any kind of evolution over the last few years in these courses? Any interesting new areas of study?

AE: One of the big things that we're working on at the moment is opening an Institute of Technology within the College, which is pure logistics space. This is going to be kitted out with the latest and greatest in automation technology. We’ve just purchased two CartConnect 100s from Körber and Zebra, and we're going to deploy these within our college soon.

We want to be able to start delivering courses around how to work collaboratively with this technology within the warehouse environment so that we are setting our students up for 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now for jobs that don't exist yet. We are actively looking to see where the trends are going for the market and the industry and see how we can equip our learners with the best possible start to their careers within the industry.

BC: Why is it important to offer transport and logistics qualifications to the next generation?

AE: I think logistics is seen as such a dirty and not attractive industry to go into. That was certainly the opinion I had of it before I started in logistics myself about eight years ago. I very quickly saw there's so much more to it than walking around a warehouse and picking up something off the shelf or driving a lorry half an hour down the road. There's so much more to it. Helping young people understand that it's so data-driven and solutions-driven is really important to help set up future supply chain leaders for success within the industry.

BC: So once you have equipped these young people with their apprenticeships and their qualifications, how can logisticians then attract that young talent into their companies?

AE: That’s a tough one! It is hard to try and get young people interested in logistics. I think how we market the courses that we're running at the college is really important in getting people excited about logistics.

This automation project we've got going on at the college, having these robots running around, is going to do wonders for us at the college, I think it's going to really help boost our student numbers. Once people see this and they realize it is not just picking and packing and driving trucks.

Having these conversations now and letting young people know that it isn't just that there is so much more to logistics are key in bringing this future generation into the industry.

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