Tech and digital skills are high in demand across every aspect of the supply chain. From shipping and warehousing to ‘last mile’ delivery, the pandemic-fuelled eCommerce explosion has called for the advancement of digital technologies to sustain growth.
Get this. Global investment to digitally transform the logistics sector is expected to reach $75.5 billion by 2026. The US will be leading the way with China hot on its heels, according to ReportLinker. So, how exactly is new tech changing the industry and what’s in store for STEM professionals?
The wild world of warehouse robots
Whilst making deliveries using drones and driverless electric vehicles (EVs) is still largely experimental, some businesses are using drones for other activities like carrying out warehouse inventories. And some freight terminals in Australia and Europe have the first-ever fully automated loading and unloading capabilities. Advanced tech is fast becoming a driving force within warehouse operations and there’s still a way to go.
Dark warehousing, which involves buildings operated solely by machines working in total darkness, is now a reality.
The most advanced businesses are using robots to unpack newly arrived shipping containers. Driverless forklift trucks and other automated guided vehicles (AGVs) or autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) act as robotic warehouse assistants moving and stacking pallets, or shifting products selected by automated picking tools. Dark warehousing, which involves buildings operated solely by machines working in total darkness, is now a reality.
Tip of the industry iceberg
But of course, robots and automated machines are just the visible tip of the tech iceberg in logistics. Ultimately, it’s the advanced software platforms used to manage warehouses and customer fulfilment, the adoption of tech such as AI, machine learning, robotic process automation, cloud-based software, and the exploitation of ‘big data’ that underpins this and is driving wider change in the sector.
“While digitalisation increases productivity and helps offset staff shortages in traditional logistics roles, some members report that it results in a rising demand for tech-employees to support, operate and develop new digital services and platform..."
Software development enables firms to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively and achieve better results for customers. For example, by creating high-quality warehouse management systems (WMS) that can carry out real-time stock tracking, record staff productivity, automate billing, providing users with information at the touch of a button.
Consequently, the industry is hungry for people with tech and digital qualifications and skills – in IT, computer science, data science and engineering, software development and software engineering, and many other STEM-related areas. In the US alone, demand for software developers, including software engineers, will increase by 22% between 2022 and 2030, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As Michelle Gardner Head of Public Policy for trade association Logistics UK points out: “While digitalisation increases productivity and helps offset staff shortages in traditional logistics roles, some members report that it results in a rising demand for tech-employees to support, operate and develop new digital services and platforms. These roles are increasingly hard to fill given the growing competition for talent with these skills across all business sectors today.”
Locking down or lucking out
Logistics companies face stiff competition from other sectors when recruiting people with tech and digital skills, and many are looking outside the industry to fill permanent staff and contracting roles with suitable people.
Emily Sharpe, UK-based Senior Customer Success Manager with SThree, says that the demand for people with IT, software development and software engineering skills – often as project-based contractors – has dramatically increased as companies seek to implement projects they had suspended or deferred due to Covid-19.
“We’re seeing strong demand for solutions architects. These are highly experienced people with a background in software development and engineering who work across the business to map out software solutions for delivering specific business objectives or programmes.” Emily Sharpe, Senior Customer Success Manager, SThree
The sheer volume of data required by the modern supply chain for analysis and presentation is creating a high demand for a variety of roles focused on ‘big data’ management and analytics. Companies are looking to employ data warehouse developers to design and create huge, centralised banks of consolidated operational, sales and marketing data in one ‘location’ that employees can access easily for analysis and reporting purposes.
Over half of logistics providers across the US, UK and Asia-Pacific are already using cloud-based services, and one-fifth more intend to do so soon.
A major shift towards the cloud for the remote-hosting of data, software and processes is taking place. Over half of logistics providers across the US, UK and Asia-Pacific are already using cloud-based services, and one-fifth more intend to do so soon. So, cloud migration specialists are heavily sought after to help businesses transfer their ‘in-house’ resources onto the cloud.
And with WMS software reported to be by far the most implemented technology among third-party logistics firms, it’s not surprising that WMS developers are in great demand. Dynamic companies want to create WMS systems and integrate them into their businesses, and then need software test managers to ensure new systems work as intended.
The race is on
With eCommerce on an upward trajectory, employers will need to address speed and accuracy to capture a share in this growing market. STEM skills are at the heart of this ambition in logistics, and the need for tech and digital capabilities is only likely to grow.
As Logistics UK’s Michelle Gardner puts it: “If the logistics sector is to attract the people with the skills and qualifications it needs in the face of stiff competition, we will have to make sure they’re aware of the many opportunities this vibrant industry has to offer them.”
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