LOGISTICS was once strictly for the military, but now storing and transporting products and components is a huge and vital industry that makes extensive use of technology and demands high skills.
Now the shortage of such skills has led to the founding of the Academy of Logistics and Transport - a partnership project aimed at training people who live or work in the Thames Gateway regeneration area which lies along a historic stretch of the river east of the Tower of London.
The academy is a partnership between the Institute of Logistics and Transport, Thurrock and Basildon college, Thurrock Business Forum, Anglia polytechnic university, the Learning and Skills Council Essex, as well as the privately-owned Port of Tilbury Ltd.
The logistics and transport skills shortage looks set to affect the Thames Gateway area particularly heavily. Projects that will demand skilled workers include a Pamp;O Ports and Shell UK proposal for world-class container port and "distribution park" on the Essex bank of the Thames at Stanford-le-Hope. This development, on the site of the former Shell Haven oil refinery, could generate 17,000 new jobs. Thurrock, Essex, alone has 269 logistics and transport firms, employing about 6,500 people, about 15 per cent of total employment in the area.
Thames Gateway is also one of the districts earmarked for some of the extra 200,000 homes Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott wants in the South-East.
In common with other UK ports, London, is also threatened by the EU working time directive, which requires many employers to reduce the working week.
There is also a growing need for local firms to provide a 24-hour-a-day service to keep up with the demand for "just-in-time " production. This involves manufacturers cutting costs by keeping down stocks, and responding to big orders by rapidly increasing production.
The increasing popularity of buying over the Internet affects the skills required of employees if firms are to deal with a wider variety of customers and demands. Yet there is particular shortage of under-25s with logistics skills and it is hard to hold onto older employees, such is the demand for skilled workers.
The chairman of the steering committee of the new academy is Perry Glading, Tilbury's managing director. He says that the idea behind it is make "sustainable" improvements in the area's skills base. Career opportunities will be created for local people to work in logistics or transport, and the needs of the existing workforce will be identified and met.
"The new academy will generate a new wave of better qualified, well informed employees and employees in this important sector," Mr Glading adds. "Our targets are specific - to raise awareness, to educate and to inform ourselves using the best technology and research to ensure a prosperous future for the UK logistics and transport industry."
Basic and vocational skills as well as professional development are to be offered, as are practitioner and specialist refreshers and generaloperational management instruction. The academy will offer courses at convenient locations, including the Port of Tilbury itself, Lakeside, Thurrock and Basildon college and the APU Southfields centre campus.
The training drive will be complemented by collection and interpretation of logistics information in support of new research and consultancy resources to help local employers to boost their competitiveness.