Universities broaden training for transportation, logistics

by Canadian Shipper

CALGARY, Alta. — About 86,000 people will be needed annually to fill the void left by retiring workers, and surging demand in areas such as the railway industry and others, according to organizations that track the sector such as the Van Horne Institute at the University of Calgary, according to CanWest news service.

After trying to launch a transportation and logistics program a few years ago at the U of C that focused on social sciences, Peter Wallis, president of the Van Horne Institute, is now working with the Haskayne School of Business at the same university, to develop a bachelor of commerce degree with a transportation specialization.

Wallis believes the general public has a narrow view of what types of skills are needed in the transportation and logistics field, typically thinking of warehouse workers or truck drivers, without recognizing the vast spectrum of other occupations within the field.

“We’re now in the process of designing it and working with industry, so people have a broader understanding of supply chain and operations management,” he said.

Since Alberta’s economy remains strong and is geographically situated as an inland transportation hub, Wallis considers it a perfect location to develop this type of program.

Paul Wajda knows how desperately needed people are with both traditional skills, such as heavy-duty mechanics and railway conductors, and more complex skills, typically found in middle- to upper-management business and operations roles.

As director of talent acquisition and development for Canadian Pacific (CP), he’s hiring about 1,100 people a year for the next three years, both on the union and management side.

The average age of workers in the rail industry is also older than the national average for the transportation and logistics sector: 45 versus 39 years old. It means CP’s workforce strategy is ahead of the curve and needs to address the urgent need for people in the next few years after several years of downsizing in the past.

“We’re running record tonnage, which means we need to hire more people,” said Wajda.

Mount Royal College’s program chairwoman of the bachelor of applied international business and supply chain management program, Valerie Kinnear, has said the need for versatile graduates has never been more apparent.

“The combination of a business background with more specific skills on operating transportation and logistics businesses is really what it’s about,” she said of a program where all graduates found immediate employment in a wide range of industries. “There’s higher demand for workers than we’ve had students, to take on those positions.”

The busy pace of the oil-and-gas sector has only exacerbated the need for students with a broad skill set in transportation and logistics with business and operations management. These are skills that make them versatile additions to any company, operating in areas such as the oil sands, according to Kinnear.

“A large chunk of running any business is making sure you’ve got what you need; where you need it, and when you need it. There’s such a huge need to get things into place to run your operations for these huge (oil sands) projects.”

Companies in more traditional sectors, such as trucking and rail, are also experiencing a need for workers due to the demographic reality facing them, so Wajda believes working closely with training institutions to identify specific areas of greatest demand in the future, will be paramount to any effective workforce strategy.

CP works with a number of other post-secondary institutions across Canada, to help develop the next generation of employees for its wide geographic base.

“Alberta is a hot market right now; B.C. is one, and Saskatchewan will probably be the next one, but we have strategies to get people from the Atlantic Provinces, (as well as) Quebec, Ontario. We’re looking at foreign workers: anything to help us meet our growth strategy,” said Wajda.

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