Online courses fill a gap

In Namibia, challenges persist, particularly in freight forwarding, supply chain management, and logistics due to a shortage of skilled professionals. And as technology evolves, the need for these specialised skills becomes increasingly apparent, says Juliette Fourie, managing director of Metro Minds.

“The technology advancements taking place in Namibia will need a certain skill set to adapt and embrace. The positive developments and economic growth that the country is experiencing will also require new skills sets like leadership, strategic planning and good management and financial practices. Currently, there are only two universities in Namibia – the University of Namibia and the Namibia University of Science and Technology – where you can only study a master’s degree in supply chain with only a few private providers focusing on freight forwarding and customs compliance.”

With this in mind, Metro Minds has broadened its scope, with the QCTO Accredited NQF 5 Clearing & Forwarding Agent, BCom Freight Forwarding and Customs Compliance, numerous short courses, and interactive software available online. This allows countries across Africa to access the necessary means to improve skills. “The focus for Africa is bigger than ever as various countries’ economic outlook is stronger than South Africa. We have shown many successes in recent Africa projects and will continue our drive on quality skills programmes.”

According to Fourie, Namibia is undergoing significant shifts across various sectors. Renewable energy is emerging as a key focus, leveraging the country’s abundant solar and wind energy potential to meet energy needs sustainably. Government initiatives and private sector investments are propelling this transition towards renewable sources. Namibia’s mining industry, particularly uranium and diamond mining, remains a vital pillar of the economy, with increased exploration activities and investments driven by rising global demand for minerals. Namibia’s natural landscapes, wildlife, and cultural heritage are attracting growing numbers of tourists. The tourism sector is experiencing steady growth, with a commitment to sustainable practices to preserve the environment and cultural assets.

Namibia is embracing technological advancements, evident in the increasing digitisation across industries. Innovations in e-commerce, digital payment systems, and telecommunications infrastructure are fostering economic growth and efficiency, aligning Namibia with global technological trends.The economic outlook also remains promising, despite challenges. “The government’s commitment to infrastructure development and economic diversification initiatives sets a positive trajectory for long-term growth and stability.”

Namibia’s economy is gradually diversifying beyond traditional sectors like mining, with a heightened emphasis on renewable energy, tourism, and technology-driven industries,” says Fourie. “In light of all the trends and developments in the country, training institutes have various avenues for skills development to explore. Tailored training programmes can address skill shortages and enhance workforce capabilities in this crucial sector.”

Fourie says despite challenges such as infrastructure limitations and skills shortages, Namibia’s logistics sector presents opportunities for skills development in supply chain management, freight forwarding, and logistics planning. “As Namibia embraces technological advancements, there is a demand for skilled professionals in areas such as e-commerce, digital marketing, and telecommunications. Training programmes in digital skills, cybersecurity, and data analytics can empower individuals to leverage technology effectively and drive economic growth and efficiency.”

Urgent call to improve skills gap – survey

In a recent industry-wide survey, professionals from various sectors have highlighted the key areas that demand urgent attention for improved efficiency and seamless operations. The survey, conducted by Metro Minds, has found that the triad of communication skills, technical knowledge and training – along with adaptability to problem-solving – are the pivotal areas that require strategic focus for continued industry success.

Speaking to Freight News, Metro Minds managing director Juliette Fourie said improving these skills within the freight forwarding and customs industry was essential to enhancing efficiency, client satisfaction and overall performance. “Addressing the skills gap through training, education and a focus on continuous improvement can lead to a more successful and competitive industry,” she said. “Other skills that appear to be important in the logistics industry include analytical skills, problem-solving, innovation, geographical awareness and technology. “It is important to note that the importance of certain skills may vary, depending on the specific role and company within the logistics industry.”

She said the survey of executives in the industry highlighted the fact that skills development and human capital needed more attention. “Specifically, it requires a more personalised, customised approach,” she said, adding that it made sense to engage the services of training institutions like Metro Minds for this purpose. “In response to key skills development strategies, the executives we interviewed emphasised a people-centric approach. They believe that focusing on people development is fundamental to achieving business goals, with succession planning and individual development plans being targeted to key personnel.” She said companies were taking different approaches to this, be it launching leadership development programmes or investing in private training institutions to address the skills gap. “One executive admitted that there was currently a misalignment between training efforts and business strategy,” said Fourie.

Looking ahead, she said, the industry will have to focus its efforts not only on attracting the right talent, but also on retaining their skills. “Motivating employees, building an employer brand, fostering a values-based culture, and developing people capabilities through functional workplace academies and simulated courses run by service providers like Metro Minds is critical in the current workplace.”

New qualification addresses skills training in warehousing sector

African enterprises eager to enhance their skills in the warehousing sector have an opportunity to do so with the launch of a groundbreaking freight handling qualification by Metro Minds. According to MD Juliette Fourie, this qualification goes beyond theoretical learning, offering students hands-on experience in a real warehouse environment. This practical approach allows students to develop essential skills in receiving, managing, and dispatching freight, ensuring they are well-prepared to meet the demands of the industry.

“The programme further stands out thanks to the use of a freight and distribution simulator,” she said. “This simulation not only facilitates the training of newcomers in the freight and distribution space but also equips them with the practical knowledge needed to be job-ready. Graduates can hit the ground running upon completion of the course, making them valuable assets in the industry.”

This initiative by Metro Minds not only addresses the need for skilled workers in the warehousing sector but also provides a solution to the ongoing challenge of offering practical, real-world training. The warehousing sector in South Africa and the entire continent encounters common challenges concerning infrastructure, security, and logistics efficiency. As demand for e-commerce continues to grow across the continent, warehouses and distribution centres are confronted with the need to tackle these issues and provide effective solutions. There is a noticeable trend toward using technology for better inventory management and tracking, alongside an emphasis on sustainability and energy efficiency in warehouse operations.

Training, said Fourie, was of paramount importance for improving skills and efficiency in the African warehouse sector. Not only does it equip warehouse personnel with the knowledge and skills necessary to perform their roles effectively, but properly trained workers are more likely to make fewer errors, work more efficiently, and reduce the risk of accidents and product damage, thus improving a company’s overall competitiveness.

“Safety is a top concern in warehouse operations. Training helps employees understand and adhere to safety protocols, reducing the number of workplace accidents and injuries. This, in turn, leads to cost savings, reduced downtime, and better employee morale,” said Fourie, indicating that it also increased productivity as skilled workers completed tasks more efficiently and quickly. “Training helps employees understand best practices and use equipment effectively, leading to a boost in overall productivity and throughput.”

Just as important is that ongoing investment in skills development delivers improved compliance with regulations. Many warehouses are subject to various regulations and industry standards. Training ensures that employees are aware of and compliant with these regulations, reducing the risk of fines and legal issues.“African companies investing in training and developing a skilled workforce ensure that the warehouse sector as a whole can grow and become more competitive on a global scale. This can attract more investment and create job opportunities across the continent,” said Fourie.

Urgent need to create a pipeline for women leaders

In recent years, the call for improved gender representation in leadership positions has gained momentum, and rightly so. However, the significance of having women in leadership goes beyond mere representation, says Juliette Fourie, managing director of Metro Minds.

“Research and data suggest that having more women leaders can be a game-changer for businesses and their financial performance. McKinsey research recently highlighted that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom. Plus, research from academics from the universities of Glasgow and Leicester showed that companies with more than 30% female executives were more likely to outperform companies that don’t. In 2023, women CEOs are heading up 10% of Fortune 500 companies for the first time in history. This is undoubtedly an important milestone. But it also underscores the need for more women at all levels of leadership,” she says.

Despite this, women’s representation in the freight industry remains historically low, particularly in roles such as truck drivers, freight handlers and other operational positions. Women continue to face barriers to entry and advancement in the field. Fourie says some advances have been made to improve gender diversity in recent years, but representation in many segments remains disproportionately low. “The lack of female representation can be attributed to various factors, including perceived physical demands, workplace culture, family and lifestyle considerations, and lack of mentors,” she says.

According to Fourie, it is essential that companies introduce programmes to increase women’s representation. “At Metro Minds, our workshops and programmes are aligned to cater for women in leadership roles and build a new generation of women leaders. There are currently wonderful success stories in the industry, and many organisations are good at promoting female leadership.” She says the freight industry must recognise the importance of gender diversity and actively work towards creating an inclusive and equitable workplace for all employees. In particular, there is an urgent need to create a pipeline for women leaders.

Digital economy dramatically changes role of human resource management

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, has revolutionised various sectors through the integration of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation. As we move into the fifth industrial revolution, Industry 5.0, a new focus on personalisation and customisation is emerging, placing humans at the centre of technological advancements, says Juliette Fourie, MD of Metro Minds.

“Industry 4.0 brought transformative changes to businesses, particularly in the freight and logistics industry. The integration of technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and the Internet of Things enhanced efficiency, improved customer experiences, and facilitated tailormade solutions. However, the full potential of this revolution can only be realised with transparent and trustworthy systems, addressing challenges related to data security and trust,” she explains. “Additionally, aligning new skill sets and job roles with the changes brought by Industry 4.0 has been a crucial task for businesses.”

According to Fourie, the digital economy has led to a significant shift in the role of human resource management. While machines excel at repetitive tasks, humans possess cognitive and sensory skills that are vital for decision making and leadership roles. “In the freight and logistics industry, automation and technological advancements have transformed the workforce. To adapt to these changes, human resource management and training institutions must redesign development programmes, policies, and recruitment strategies. Technological understanding, effective communication, creativity, innovation, and high emotional intelligence will be essential skills for the future workplace.”

She says skills development will play a critical role in preparing individuals for the future workplace. “Education 4.0, driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, emphasises personalised and independent learning, adapting to the changing needs of industries. Continuous learning, self-directed learning, and collaboration with peers are becoming increasingly important to manage disruptions caused by digital advancements. Skills development should incorporate real-life business cases, combining theory and practice, to equip individuals with technical knowledge, decision-making skills, digital literacy, and adaptability. Furthermore, mental well-being, stress management, and employee recognition are emerging as key skills in this era of disruption.”

She says going forward, bridging the gap between traditional education and the changing demands of the workplace will be crucial. “Lifelong learning and upskilling are essential to adapt to the automation of tasks and processes. The future employee must possess cognitive agility, critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, emotional intelligence, and teamwork skills. Education institutions should focus not only on knowledge retention but also on cognitive flexibility, entrepreneurship, and creativity.”

SACO CFR Launches STARS Leadership Initiative

STARS Leadership is a leadership and development initiative that aims to identify potential future leaders in the SACO CFR team of companies. This includes SACO CFR, Metro Minds, ZacPak, and the group’s Mauritius office. The initiative aims to offer candidates opportunities to improve their leadership and business skills.

SACO CFR aims to invest in its employees’ skill development to secure the future leadership of the company and the industry. By investing in the right people, the business aims to create world-class systems and processes that will lead to high customer satisfaction and good financial results through sustainable and relevant solutions.

“The first pillar of the SACO CFR strategy map is to invest in highly motivated and skilled people,” said Metro Minds managing director Juliette Fourie. The program runs over a year and is customised to inform future leaders by providing them with an NQF 5 qualification in management. Furthermore, the program is customised to cater to the business, its vision, mission, and values.

Applications for the initiative were advertised, and the application process consisted of high prerequisite requirements, a motivational letter, and a presentation to the executive team about their background, expectations, and motivations. Twenty-seven applicants responded to the advert, and after the extensive selection process, 12 candidates were selected to participate in the program for 2023.

The delegates are employed across multiple divisions, including IT, internal sales, the training department, operations, warehousing, business solutions, accounting, and finance. Of these delegates, about 60% are from Johannesburg, while the remaining 40% are from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Durban.

The curriculum consists of eight modules, including an introduction to the essence of leadership, management and management functions, building high-performing teams, performance evaluation and review, change and innovation, coaching and mentoring, business solutions and strategies, understanding business finance, and creating value for customers. Lastly, delegates have to make an exit presentation for the executive team to explain what they’ve learned from the initiative and what innovation they want to take forward.

For every module in the qualification, the company invites an executive-level member and an external subject-matter expert to speak to the delegates in a series of seminars. Delegates from coastal cities travel to Johannesburg to attend seminars for two days every four to six weeks. Additionally, they attend classes and do assessments, proposals, and presentations to enhance their competency.

“We found, as an employer, that specifically leadership skills are lacking. We saw the need for these skills to be developed,” explains SACO human resources executive Beverly Kirstein. As a result, the program facilitates personal and professional development specific to business strategy to enable employees to move into higher positions in the company while highlighting to the rest of the industry the importance of developing their employees on this level.

“For the business itself, I think what’s important on an executive level is people development and skills development. The business highly regards the development of its employees and the future and sustainability of its leadership,” said Fourie. Like many other companies in South Africa, SACO CFR faces the challenge of high employee turnover rates. Thus, the program also acts as a source of internal promotion and motivation to retain good staff by providing them with opportunities that will simultaneously enrich the company.

Transformed training approach needed for digital world

Digital literacy has become a vital skill in today’s workplace, as technology continues to play a critical role in almost every aspect of business operations. Metro Minds managing director Juliette Fourie explains that the logistics industry is experiencing a significant transformation as it embraces the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with various technologies driving its growth.

The top five trends for the industry include the Internet of Things (IoT), which enables real-time tracking of movement, temperature, and humidity. Artificial intelligence algorithms are used to analyse large amounts of data to optimize decision-making, while blockchain technology provides more secure tracking and recording. Autonomous vehicles, such as drones and self-driving trucks, are also becoming more common in the industry, while augmented reality is being used to improve warehouse and automated processes and operations.

As the industry continues to evolve, education providers such as Metro Minds focus on equipping individuals with the necessary skills to meet the growing demand for enterprise skills. These skills, which include digital literacy, communication, creativity, teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking, and financial literacy, are transferable and enable individuals to navigate complex job functions in various industries. It is estimated that jobs of the future will demand 70% more of these types of skills than jobs of the past. To address this need, skills development will be provided through immersive experiences and augmented learning, as opposed to traditional education practices.

According to Fourie, the percentage of jobs that demand critical thinking has increased by 158%, creativity by 65%, presentation skills by 25% and teamwork by 19%. “Enterprise skills are becoming just as important for job entry as technical skills,” she says. “The importance of human capital is on the rise and talent management is becoming a competitive advantage. To remain relevant, robust talent pipelines must therefore be designed for reskilling and finding the right skills to invest in.”While automation is being implemented, many job functions in the logistics sector remain too complex for systems to perform, resulting in a strong human dependency.

However, disruption is driving innovation, with crypto, Web 3.0, blockchain, virtual reality, and augmentation taking centre stage, and digitisation becoming more prominent than ever before. Fourie notes that one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is privacy and cyberattacks, requiring effective risk management. Cyberattacks have been prevalent since 2005, affecting approximately 300 000 computers in over 150 countries by 2017. As anything that cannot be automated or digitised becomes increasingly valuable, technology represents how things will change, while human expertise represents the why.

New degree course elevates professionalism in the industry

For the first time in history, the South African clearing and forwarding sector has access to a Bachelor of Commerce in Freight Forwarding and Customs Compliance. Metro Minds, as an associate faculty of the Da Vinci Institute, will be leading the elective stream for the business school.

According to Metro Minds managing director Juliette Fourie, the company has invested heavily in this new offering that will see them run the freight forwarding and customs compliance modules of the degree.“The course specifically focuses on applying skills to navigate the seamless movement, clearance, handling, storage and distribution of goods in the supply chain. Skills and knowledge include systems thinking, agility and entrepreneurship and creativity, translating into making better decisions, solving problems, and thinking critically,” said Fourie. The course includes ten elective modules that range from the international trade environment, freight operations, customs compliance operations and operation management to customs management, logistics management, risk and insurance management, commercial management and digital management.

Speaking to Freight News, Fourie said the course would also include practical application in collaboration with industry.“Another development at Metro Minds has been the ongoing focus on simulation of industry qualifications to enable work readiness and talent development into the industry,” she said. “This is aligned to cater for the skills of the future in the form of digital literacy, communication, creativity, innovation, problem-solving and critical thinking.” With this in mind, Metro Minds launched the pilot Supply Chain Simulation in Cape Town recently. This simulation utilises practical real-life experiences.

Another development that will also impact positively on industry is the development of Smart Minds – an interactive online learning platform designed to empower individuals to build knowledge, skills, and experiences. “All the courses are impactful and practical, with quizzes, videos, and exciting articles to expand and test your knowledge,” explained Fourie, highlighting the importance of practical experience for the forwarding and clearing sector. “The Smart Minds courses are diverse, including various topics ranging from personal development to human skills, life skills and industry-specific hard skills. The main aim is to optimise learning in the shortest amount of time, cost-effectively, with a memorable and fun experience.”

These courses have also been created with affordability in mind. “This is ideal for self-development, and creating a learning culture for a team.” Fourie said another aspect that continued to be developed at Metro Minds for industry was leadership development. “Our Leading Minds product is focused on personalised and customised leadership frameworks created and developed as per business strategy and needs. It is a three-tier framework starting off with potential leaders, existing leaders and then senior leaders. Leadership is a differentiating factor in any organisation and should be a first priority as part of talent management and capacity building.”

Increasing demand for critical thinking

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Demand for enterprise and leadership skills is expected to rise, says Juliette Fourie, founder and managing director of Metro Minds.“Enterprise skills are transferable skills, allowing people to navigate complex job functions in different industries. It includes digital literacy, communication, creativity, teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking, and financial literacy.”It is estimated that jobs of the future will demand 70% more of these types of skills than jobs of the past. Skills development, on the other hand, will be provided through experiences, immersion, and augmented learning instead of traditional education practices, Fourie warns. “The percentage of jobs that demand critical thinking has increased by 158%, creativity by 65%, presentation skills by 25%, and teamwork by 19%. Enterprise skills are becoming just as important for job entry as technical skills, and human dependency is too strong. The top skills needed for the future sit in digital literacy, emotional intelligence, creativity, and adaptability.”

With this in mind, Fourie says it is imperative that the industry refocus its efforts on training. “Due to the regulation that has been put in place, skills development has become a compliance exercise rather than a need or demand exercise.”The situation was exacerbated as companies also became more reliant on funding from the Seta to pay for skills development in their businesses. With funding under pressure, it has resulted in skills development taking yet another back seat.“Skills development is the primary ingredient to assist with unemployment and future economic growth,” says Fourie. “The scarce skills discourse has been blamed for ongoing poverty, unemployment, and inequality, which are not being addressed, despite many efforts.”

Moving forward it will be essential to introduce coordinated, responsive and coherent skills planning systems within companies. This is recognised by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), which has called for more alignment between skills supply and demand. A report by the DHET suggests that a 32% share of the workforce in South Africa has a mismatch between their qualification and job.“Creating a credible skills planning mechanism is important to understand the skills demand and supply, and alignment of capacity needed to drive business strategies,” says Fourie. “Looking at the economic state, the labour force profile, the current demand, and the future demand would assist in understanding the skills demand and supply and skills misalignment much better.”

According to Fourie, there has been a slight increase in the demand for skills development services. “The pandemic has, however, changed the way we think about training as well as the way we present learning. Micro-learning and virtual classes have become more popular,” she says. “We are also again going back to basics – communication, customer service. This comes as the way we do business post-Covid has changed. Technical industry skills will always be in demand but life skills are organic and will need attention. “Her advice to the industry is to invest in the long term. “Start with an assessment and realities of the current state of skills per department in your business. Link this to the larger intention and picture.”

Digital literacy is a non-negotiable

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The African education system faces a raft of challenges. Across the continent, students are faced with a variety of issues – and accessibility to good education is a major stumbling block.

According to Juliette Fourie, MD of Metro Minds, the need for training in the logistics sector is critical.“ The trends shaping the future of logistics in Africa are digitisation, closing the urban and rural divide, and the increase of business-to-business companies. Innovation lies in the way the platforms and processes are created to match supply to the demand, aligning to certain skill sets needed to keep up with the trends,” she explains. “With the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on January 1, the free movement of goods, services and people is aimed at reducing tariffs and kick-starting the entire sector.

Again, digital literacy becomes a much-needed skill of the future as African e-logistics companies play a massive role in reducing transport costs and delays. With more and more rail and port concessions happening, the skills demand to understand this from a holistic continent view, will become increasingly important.”

She says it is imperative to move away from the traditional approach to learning and skills development. “The traditional aim of any higher education institution is to ensure learning retention and knowledge gain happens in preparation for a productive work life – not working with artificial intelligence and robotics. Traditional education for undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate will remain, but adult learning linked to the future workplace and occupations needs to be given more attention.”

Lifelong learning is crucial

Learning, says Fourie, simply cannot stop because the institutional learning cycle comes to an end. “Education as we know it is very important, but it is not enough to carry us through the transformation of a more automated world and economy. Lifelong learning and upskilling are of utmost importance to adapt to the ever-changing content of work and life. Lifelong learning is no longer only reserved for a few ambitious individuals, it is a necessity to survive the changes in the workplace and upskill for jobs of the future.”

To cater for lifelong learning, African countries could tap into sector-specific qualifications through a hybrid model of learning.“We have found that leadership development and sales management, in particular, are becoming more and more popular in the growth of these critical skills in the African continent,” says Fourie. “Countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Nigeria, Egypt, Tanzania and Namibia are becoming more and more interested in aligning to better skills development. As for specialisation in Freight Forwarding and Customs Compliance, the BCom with electives in the latter is a perfect way of upskilling the continent. This Bachelor’s degree can be attended by anyone globally as the learning methodology focuses on micro-learning virtual sessions with a distance learning component.”

According to Fourie, the interconnectedness between South African companies and their African counterparts should be the link to increase skills and knowledge within their network. “Only a few African countries have formal skills development initiatives like the Skills Development Act and targets driven like in South Africa. The initiatives are driven more by non-profit organisations and public institutions, with very little alignment to industries. Vocational education is seen as a fallback option when a matriculant is not good enough to attend university. This alludes to a larger skills gap for an industry like logistics and freight forwarding.” She maintains that the drive for skills development should be pushed from the south to align skills strategies and obtain benchmarked skills levels.

Untapped employment opportunity

“A career in freight forwarding and clearing is not often talked about. There is an untapped employment opportunity in the sector for medium-skilled to high-skilled individuals,” she says. “Understanding this industry’s aspects and activities, and finding the best logistics solutions for international buyers and sellers, requires a broad scope of skills. The importance of this sector is underestimated, and more attention should be given when planning skills and development. The sector connects and coordinates a global system of almost every industry that exists.” Fourie says there are still significant skills gaps in the logistics sector. Compared to sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East and North Africa, South Africa’s performance is far above the continent’s performance. This could help drive skills development strategies from South Africa into the rest of Africa, according to Fourie.