The modern logistics industry includes many diverse sub-sectors. Among them are warehousing, procurement, materials management, IT, sales and marketing, and transportation by air, road and sea.
Put everything together and you have the elements of the total supply chain which is so crucial for moving products of every kind from the point of manufacture to stores or end users all around the world.
With the industry becoming increasingly complex, many employers have an urgent need both for experienced recruits and people new to the business but intent on developing a long-term career, says Anthony Wong, president of the Hong Kong Logistics Association (HKLA).
At present, he notes, there is specific demand for management-level staff with language skills and knowledge of the financial, legal and operational aspects of the industry. Such individuals are needed for positions both in Hong Kong and on the mainland.
HKLA data shows that there are well over 1,000 logistics companies of an established scale in Hong Kong. All of them contribute to the strength of the local economy, as well as to the city's international reputation for unmatched efficiency in the handling and transportation of goods. Central to this is the fact that Hong Kong has one of the world's leading airports for international cargo movements and a container port which has set global standards for many years.
In this respect, location is everything. The logistics industry has been able to take advantage of the transformation of the Pearl River Delta into a vast manufacturing hub and to handle the resulting volumes of import and export traffic. All the signs indicate that manufacturing will remain strong, so logistics services can be expected to expand as well.
Room for improvement
Nevertheless, Mr Wong says it is important to enhance competitiveness and learn from best practices in other parts of the world. He highlights four areas in which there is always room for improvement: the quality of customer service, the use of technology, streamlined operations, and the connectivity of transport networks. In addition, professionals in the industry should make a point of pursuing further education to make sure they are equipped to deal with future challenges.
In cooperation with other international bodies, the HKLA has introduced a logistics certification scheme in Hong Kong and South China. There are three qualifications ¡X certified professional logistician (CPL), the certificate in transport and logistics (CTL), and China logistician. All are accredited and recognised by examination boards in the US, Europe and China.
Apart from overseeing such courses, the HKLA also organises a range of topical activities for members. Recently, for example, representatives from Shenzhen Customs gave a talk about new practices and proposed changes. There are also seminars, CEO forums, exchanges, and port and airport visits to give members a full understanding of the broad extent of the business.
Besides that, the association collaborates with the Hong Kong Productivity Council and the Trade Development Council to present awards to recognise and encourage companies of all sizes which have made their mark in the industry.
As a non-profit-making organisation, the HKLA provides a platform for people in the sector to get together and exchange views with government representatives, academics and other sectors. This makes it possible to generate discussion and collect feedback about issues that will have an impact on future development. For example, a considerable amount of work is now being done on the possible applications for RFID (radio frequency identification) technology in order to gain a competitive edge against other countries.
Despite the impressive track record in responding to change, Mr Wong advises local companies in the logistics industry to be ready to contend with three major challenges. The first is the effect of high operating costs and low margins in the sea freight sector, which may reduce profitability; the second is regional competition from companies in the Pearl River Delta; the third is to maintain the high level of expertise now needed to succeed.
Each challenge will have to be dealt with in turn, but Mr Wong believes that Hong Kong's traditional ability to respond to competition and react to change will stand it in good stead.
"Young people interested in joining the industry should read up on things and do as much practical research as possible," he says. "Logistics is not a fashion or a trend. It is a solid industry with constant need of new blood around the world. That means the skills you acquire are not only transferable, but also exportable."