It’s no secret that we’re facing a current skills shortage within the supply chain and logistics industry, and with positions in blockchain remaining unfilled along with no current Apprenticeship Levy funded training courses available, what is the answer? Read on to explore…
Investing in the future...
In the latest government Spending Round, Chancellor Sajid Javid announced an additional £400 million in the next fiscal year for further education, including support for the new technical ‘T-levels’ and targeted ‘workforce investments’. £400 million doesn’t go a very long way but this is a welcome earnest of the intent to invest in workforce skills.
The Chancellor also confirmed ‘continued investment’ in the nation’s digital infrastructure, detail of which, including the expansion of full fibre broadband, should emerge in the National Infrastructure Strategy due this Autumn.
This again is welcome – the supply chains of tomorrow will increasingly depend on fast, reliable, high capacity digital links, especially as, Brexit or not, we may be entering a period of turbulence in trading relationships unprecedented in living memory. One of the new technologies that will be central to, and totally reliant on the new digitally enabled economy is blockchain, but there is a worrying gap here in the education and training marketplace.
What is blockchain in logistics?
Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology to be formal, is no longer the preserve of snake oil salesmen and dodgy crypto currencies. In the supply chain its application is well beyond proof of concept and it is being invested in and adopted by many respected world-leading organisations such as IBM, Maersk, Unilever, Nestle, Samsung and the mining group BHP Billiton.
Education and Recruitment will be key…
As with previous innovations such as EDI, the real value will be realised only when there are large communities of users. This will require widespread education programmes, but these cannot be confined to the IT department.
The technology has the potential to transform business and commerce in far-reaching, if as yet dimly perceived ways: it could perhaps be as significant as historical innovations like double entry book-keeping, letters of credit, or the joint stock company. To grasp the opportunities, or to avoid being left behind, organisations will need staff at all levels from data scientists to senior managers and directors, and across the range of technical and commercial functions, that ‘get’ blockchain – not just how it can improve current operations, but how it might enable or demand entirely new business models.
As just one example, Frost & Sullivan in their ‘European Freight Cost Management Market Forecast to 2025’ list as a priority, developing or acquiring blockchain capabilities with smart contracts solution – which will increase transparency in freight audits, secured payments, and record management.
Blockchain initiatives like this require not just technical knowledge, but ‘soft’ skills such as creativity, business acumen and, indeed, ambition. Writing at openaccessgovernment.org, Ken Weber, Head of Social Impact at financial blockchain specialist Ripple, says “Companies need two types of blockchain professionals. Firstly, they need engineers who possess a deep understanding of the technologies and can implement changes immediately. Secondly, they need to fill non-technical roles with senior employees who can make decisions involving the application of blockchain to business objectives”.
In such a rapidly evolving technology, these attributes are inevitably in short supply and skilled people are snapped up by the major players, while the freelance market is both expensive and something of a ‘Wild West’. For blockchain to have its full impact, smaller and mid-sized companies also need access to talent, and they will have to grow their own, with the assistance of further and higher education providers.
Apprenticeship Standards in blockchain
Being such a new technology, formal training courses in blockchain are as yet scarce, although they do exist. Blockchain applications, obviously, link several different organisations and recent changes to the Levy scheme make it possible for companies to ‘share’ their Levy contributions among supply chain partners. However, there are currently no relevant, Levy-enabled Standards for apprenticeships in this field.
The ethos behind modern apprenticeships is that they should be driven by the needs of industry. This means that Standards are set, not by training providers, but by ‘Trailblazers’ – a group of ten or more employers, large and small, and representative of the relevant sector. A Trailblazer group will also involve training providers, assessment and awarding organisations, and where appropriate professional bodies, but the drive must come from companies.
It’s time to act
The UK has a very strong IT sector and the UK’s legal and commercial structures are more welcoming than most to innovations like blockchain. But for the UK to reap the benefits, development and investment in training and apprenticeships is essential. But employers must take the initiative, now.
Bis Henderson Academy has long experience in creating bespoke training solutions that are eligible for funding from Apprenticeship Levy contributions, and we are keen to help bring interested companies together and advise any emerging Trailblazer group on how to meet its blockchain training objectives.
Beccy Wilson, Head of Development, Bis Henderson Academy, says:
“In an industry that literally does not stand still, blockchain is the next skills challenge we face. As a sector we have the responsibility of identifying the skills that are in short supply and acting to ensure we can offer the development to our people. Driving forward UK businesses at a time when being on the ‘fringe’ of new technology and innovation is critical to survival. The Levy is there to fund your training development needs, use it or lose it.”
To learn more about how a Trailblazer group for blockchain in logistics might be set up, visit the Institute for Apprenticeships here.