Insights on Logistics

By Jaden Ong

The Discovery+ Series is a series of events, delivered through online digital solutions, which give students the chance to speak directly with working professionals, and learn about careers they aspire to enter. Given the developments in the COVID-19 situation, Advisory is keen to provide support to the many students who are experiencing woes in this time of disruptions, by digitalising professional mentorship.

On 5 January 2021, Advisory and Ninja Van ( co-organised the 25th online panel of the Discovery+ Series, Discover+: Logistics. On our panel that evening, we were privileged to have experienced professionals from a range of logistics companies. The panel consisted of Joel Ong, Chief Operating Officer from Ninja Van; Emily Orcullo, Director, APAC Customer Logistics from LEGO Group; Wendy Xia, Chief of Human Resource from Schenker Singapore; Gerald Glauerdt, Co-Founder and Chief Logistics Officer from Redmart/Lazada Singapore and Wesley Ng, HR Business Partner, Technology from Ninja Van (Moderator). Our registered participants comprised students from various education levels and institutions with a common curiosity in the opportunities that lie within the logistics industry, and what they can do to better position themselves for a career in the industry.

One can choose between many different pathways; there are many other skills, roles, and challenges that exist in the logistics industry in Singapore, because Singapore does serve as the regional hub for a number of these companies. In the coming years, we can expect an even larger push toward digitalisation and automation. Hence, there are many tech-related job opportunities in the industry, including data scientists, software engineers, and even digital transformation specialists. In the industry, software, hardware, and mechanical engineers work together to create robotic and software logistics solutions. Logistics isn’t solely about making deliveries; there’s a lot of overlap with technological advances and innovations. 

We can also think about opportunities in the industry as consisting of different ‘channels’. Logistics companies often have a few major domains of work, including cross-border logistics (i.e., getting goods from one country to another), distribution (i.e., managing a facility or warehouse that stores goods, either in Singapore or abroad) and e-marketplaces (i.e., a platform that allows users to buy and sell goods). On a broader level in the supply chain, there are often multiple subfields when production is involved, such as performing demand forecasting, manufacturing and procurement. Further down the supply chain, companies might even be looking at ways that they might add value to clients, exploring areas like repairing certain goods that were damaged or certifying premium goods as genuine during the transportation process. Some companies might focus on all stages of the supply chain, while others might be specialists in a few domains. Potential applicants should think about what areas they might be keen on. 

Like any industry, a big part of the logistics industry consists of management and corporate functions which all companies need; opportunities exist in human resources, customer service, marketing communications, and at the highest level, roles in the C-suite (i.e., top management). In some companies, especially for fresh graduates, mobility between different kinds of roles or functions can also be expected. These can be great professional development opportunities. No matter what one’s role is, logistics professionals are expected to work with a large spectrum of clients, including food & beverage companies, fast-moving consumer goods businesses, and government bodies. Even within their companies, logistics professionals are expected to collaborate heavily with others, especially since synergy along the supply chain matters immensely for service delivery. Logistics professionals can stand to gain a lot of skills (e.g., commercial, analytical, problem-solving) that arise from these many interfaces with external-facing industry stakeholders. 

An increasing trend is the increasing need for international logistics solutions. Cross-border logistics can provide unique opportunities for employees to gain a grasp of working contexts in multiple countries and a deeper understanding of different cultures and business environments.

It depends on what you might like to do. On the operational side, there is one discipline that stands out: engineering. Engineers have the requisite hard skills, along with rigorous methodical and analytical mindsets that are able to solve problems and find pain points. Engineers have the opportunity to work on exciting projects, at times even some research and development, to build systems and tools that enhance service delivery. The type of engineering you should pursue should align closely with what role you might like to take on, in the industry. For instance, computer scientists or engineers would be good fits for building data engineering or software solutions, while mechanical engineers might work on the hardware that makes operations more time-efficient. As mentioned above, engineers do need to engage in cross-disciplinary work, in order to build useful tools. 

For other roles, such in analytical or strategy roles, economics, business, data science and finance are good options, as they are not only data-driven/quantitative disciplines but are also ones that enable potential employees to have the ‘business sense’ and data-driven decision making to create cost effective solutions. Technical, analytical and marketing skills, in general, are highly prized in the industry.

Even if you are gunning for regional roles, do work on communicating well in English; most, if not all countries in the region use English as their language of administration. However, it might be wise to pick up the local language if you would like to work in a specific country, management staff tend to be able to speak great English, but it helps to communicate with stakeholders at all levels, including drivers, warehouse staff, in order to make sure that information does not get lost in translation. If you would like to capitalise on the large number of opportunities and the growing market in Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia might be helpful for building working partnerships with Indonesian companies too.

Some days you’re under a lot of pressure to keep up with deliverables and key performance indicators. For instance, when one of our panellists’ companies started off in a neighbouring country, deliveries were done in the loading bay of a place of residence that some staff members were staying in. 500 deliveries were expected every day, done by a team of just 20 staff. Logistics can indeed be a very labour intensive industry. Potential applicants need to be willing to get their hands dirty, to get on the ground to understand operational realities. For instance, output and predictions from data modelling and forecasting might not be well received by operational staff, and data analysts working on operational research can only know this by speaking to operational staff, or trying their hand at a labour intensive role. Ultimately everyone on the team needs to work together to make things work, and achieve the industry’s goal of delivering timely, high-quality service outcomes.  

During peak periods, the teamwork and challenges bring out the best in people. In the logistics industry, companies often need to ramp up and down instantaneously, in response to customers’ requests, so a lot of agility is required. This industry is populated with a number of start-ups that have matured and grown over the years to become major players in the industry, and are continuing to innovate and scale efficiently; being able to see companies and teams grow from 10 to over 1000 employee can be an incredibly rewarding experience.