Trade and Investment

Why we must invest in talent and technology to transform the global supply chain

Technology is making global trade and long supply chains more efficient — but a skills gap could threaten that progress.

Technology is making global trade and long supply chains more efficient — but a skills gap could threaten that progress. Image: REUTERS/Simon Dawson

Beat Simon
Group Chief Commercial Officer, Logistics, DP World
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Trade and Investment

  • Top executives around the world are positive about the future of trade flows.
  • But a shortage of tech-savvy workers in the logistics sector could derail this bounce-back.
  • That's why companies are investing in recruiting more workers, and in technological innovations that bolster productivity.

Another year has started — and another set of challenges are impacting global trade flows. Inflation, supply chain fragmentation, conflict in Europe and the Middle East and weather disruption due to climate change all show how localized events can impact on global trade.

Yet, according to data from the latest Trade in Transition report, commissioned by DP World and led by Economist Impact, executives are optimistic for 2024.

This optimism is driven by the belief that technology can transform supply chains and help businesses navigate this uncertainty. However, advanced technologies can’t completely solve the skills shortage in logistics — a challenge that could impact economic growth if not addressed.

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Tech: the future of trade

Technological innovation is ensuring the resilience of our global trading network. It may not solve all our challenges, but it can help supply chains adapt faster and smarter.

Supply chain 4.0 is well underway as automation, technology and connectivity revolutionize the logistics landscape. And this is leading to smart, connected supply chains that align with the demands of a real-time economy. Meanwhile, blockchain technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) can automate logistics management, providing immediate insights and streamlining processes.

Businesses are fast adopting these tools. In fact, 98% of executives surveyed for the Trade in Transition report stated that they are already using AI to streamline at least one aspect of their supply chain operations. AI is the basis of DP World’s CARGOES terminal operations software, which digitally tracks operations, identifying inefficiencies and proposing modifications.

Digitalization helps with visibility and traceability, reducing trade friction and costs while creating energy savings. For example, IoT and tracking technology is providing communication and container monitoring capabilities within DP World’s operations. Meanwhile BoxBay, the company’s solar-powered, automated container handling system, is cutting emissions while using less space. At Jebel Ali port— the world’s ninth largest port — containers are placed in slots up to eleven stacks high, creating three times the capacity of a conventional yard and reducing the space used by 70%, meanwhile energy use is significantly reduced by decreasing moves.

The innovation that went into building BoxBay is also being embraced in the company’s Logistics business too. Smart technology is modernizing warehouses and transforming how DP World stockpiles inventory. Workflows are being automated, and IoT-driven devices are being deployed to fulfil orders and efficiently manage stock. DP World’s Fetch Robot is independently moving small packages at warehouses in the Netherlands, boosting productivity.

Technology is critical to trade operations.
Technology is critical to trade operations. Image: Economist Impact Survey

Technology won’t solve the skills challenge

While companies are optimistic that technology will drive cost savings and efficiencies, it can’t be relied upon to fill the skills gap. In a recent survey by MHI, a supply-chain trade association, executives in the industry said that finding qualified workers and talent retention was their greatest challenge. These skills shortages could impact global economic growth.

A significant proportion of today’s workforce lack the skills to sustain or grow technological efficiency in supply chains. To ensure supply chain resilience, upskilling future generations is a global priority. Such efforts cannot be restricted to leading economies if we are to create a reliable, tech-driven supply chain network built on efficiency and trust.

Businesses need to focus on capability building and attracting talent that can implement these advanced technologies. To this end, DP World is seeking to double its graduate intake in 2024 and boost outreach in schools and universities. Inspiring young minds is key in harnessing their ingenuity and getting fresh perspectives on our operations. This provides companies with the ambitious workers they need and provides young people with careers they can grow in. From their minds, the next generation of smarter, stronger supply chains will emerge.

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