People are a saving grace for a Covid-weary logistics/supply-chain industry under enormous pressure


As much as automated systems are revolutionising supply chains, human capital – and more importantly, the quality thereof – remains paramount.

In Part 1 of the State Capture Commission’s report released this year, Justice Raymond Zondo went to great lengths to explain how government procurement processes had been subverted well before state capture even became part of the national conversation. Goods and services were procured when they were not needed, and there was often unnecessary duplication of work.

These practices were the direct result of people who were either unscrupulous or grossly incompetent.

This is an extreme example, but it does show what can happen when the wrong people are left to oversee logistics and supply chains.

While for the moment the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic appears to be over, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is giving rise to further turmoil in the world economy as fuel prices skyrocket and sanctions reshape global supply chains.

That said, there is no doubt that the impact of the virus is also still being felt. Shipping costs remain high, and the world has not yet recovered from the microchip shortage affecting a number of industries.

The situation will necessitate that skilled logistics leaders and staff are in place to weather the storm and ensure that businesses won’t only remain sustainable, but profitable as well.

The supply chain industry is facing continuous change and major shifts due to the complex demands of customers. This has an impact and certain quality expectations on the roles of the supply chain specialists to adapt and shape business solutions.

Polly Mitchell-Guthrie, of supply chain software company Kinesis, points out that because today’s supply chains face many disruptions, it makes it extremely difficult to establish patterns, and no matter how technologically-advanced algorithms may be.

“It’s humans who possess the ability to derive meaning from context, so when disruptions arise, it is people who are able to use business acumen and domain expertise to make the best decisions for their supply chain,” she comments in Engineering & Technology magazine.

Certainly in South Africa there is huge scope for young, driven entrepreneurs to contribute effectively to supply chains.

A World Bank analysis for South Africa released in 2021 argued that if the country were to match the self-employment rates of countries like Brazil, Mexico and Turkey, making up an estimated 30% of all jobs, it could potentially halve its dismal unemployment rate of 34.9%.

Furthermore, the global human capital market size is expected to reach $32.68-billion (R502-billion) by 2027.

According to Fortune Business Insights, the increasing proclivity of companies towards artificial intelligence and machine-learning to eliminate unnecessary IT costs will foster the growth of market sales.

In other words, there is fertile ground for the country’s entrepreneurs to grow, and people will be at the heart of any potential revival.

“People are the champions in making a business a success,” says Bidvest International Logistics’ (BIL) human resources director Harry Dimo.

“People are the fundamental human resources to provide quality service to the customers, therefore it is a must to continuously improve employees’ efficiency and performance.”

Dimo cannot stress enough the importance of having the “correct people with the appropriate skills sets and experience” on board to ensure processes happen as they should.

“The common qualities include the ability to solve technical problems, always display a sense of energy, learning and innovative capability, good leadership traits and intellectual humility.

“Individuals also need to be savvy in terms of the supply chain industry and be able to adapt to the continuous changes and challenges.”

At BIL, recruitment practices are geared to ensuring the company attracts and retains the best possible talent in the market.

Scouting for this talent occurs in a variety of ways. These include a state-of-the-art recruitment platform that connects to LinkedIn and all the biggest electronic job boards. There are also a large number of candidates on BIL’s database that enables it to find suitable replacements in shortened periods. The company also enjoys close relationships with recruitment agencies and boasts a well-established Employee Referral Programme which rewards employees for referring people they know to BIL.

Dimo recommends that recruiting individuals or companies should review their hiring processes by interrogating their pros and cons and align their hiring approach to business competency requirements.

By no means is BIL the only business that has had to endure the challenges of Covid-19, but it does stand out as one that has done so successfully.  This is because its leaders continued to support and develop its staff despite the pressures on global supply chains.

“The BIL Academy had to become more innovative in how training and development should be remotely presented to employees, which brought about a big shift to insource training solutions which traditionally were outsourced to training providers,” Dimo explains.

“Management is constantly faced with the difficult task of keeping employees motivated during tough economic challenges, including Covid-19 circumstances, both inside and outside of the workplace. As a result, the best practice leadership approach is critical to ensuring that we cultivate a motivated, happy and productive workforce.”

BIL possesses what it likes to call its own internal “talent supply chain” that ensures continuity of highly-skilled staff.

The company has a Transport Education Training Authority (TETA)- accredited internal academy that makes sure all qualifications are professionally recognised.

In addition to leadership programmes and other behavioural skills training to address the required competencies, bursaries are also offered to high potential employees who are able to pursue degrees and post-degree qualifications.

BIL believes that while learnerships provide industry basics, tertiary study and other training address the current and future skills essential to the dynamic supply chain industry.

BIL also offers wellness solutions and employee support solutions. This offering was especially well received during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Furthermore, the company programme includes periodical internal employee satisfaction surveys to understand what employees are going through in the workplace.

“We also have a robust and continuous improvement performance management approach which is linked to our reward system. Lastly, we have effective methods to celebrate successes and drive innovation,” Dimo concludes.