This post is also available in: Japanese
I was surprised when the Japanese expatriate manager at a Japanese logistics firm told me recently that he thought British logistics was more advanced than logistics in Japan. When I returned to the UK after working in Japan for four years at the end of the 1990s, I remember thinking that there was a real business opportunity for a delivery service in the UK similar to Japan’s takkyubin. This thought came to me as I watched an enormous container lorry reverse very cautiously up the 19th century narrow alleyway to my London apartment, when all they were delivering was a small armchair. Surely in Japan this would have been delivered in a much smaller van, and within a much shorter time frame, so I would not have had to wait in all day for delivery.
Thanks to the rise of internet shopping (the British are the biggest web shoppers in Europe, apparently) and also the liberalisation of postal services, takkyubin type services like MyHermes have now appeared in the UK. You can book a time slot for next day pick up from your house, online, and the prices are cheaper than taking it to the post office, for heavier items.
I assume that similar services are available from takkyubin companies in Japan, so I suppose what the Japanese logistics manager was referring to was the higher volume end of logistics in the UK – transporting large quantities of car parts across Europe, for example.
Although it is possible to get qualifications and even university degrees in logistics in the UK, all the British employees of the Japanese firm at which the Japanese manager worked were in agreement that expertise in logistics was only really developed through practical experience, over time, rather than learning the latest theories in the classroom. In that sense, they were much more in alignment with Japanese apprenticeship style “on the job” training approaches.
As the Japanese manager himself pointed out, the firm’s employees were very indigenous British. Normally when I do training sessions for Japanese companies in the UK who are in the financial or commercial sectors, more than half the employees are not British.
Maybe for those types of companies, attitude and ability to learn are more important than local market expertise, skills and experience. But for logistics and other traditional, highly skilled industries such as engineering, it is tempting to choose someone who already has the local understanding and the expertise and skills born of experience, rather than train someone up.
Such people are scarce in the UK and the rest of Europe however, and instead we have a stubborn youth unemployment problem, of young people who would rather do physical work, or work outside an office, but have not had the training or experience and cannot find stable jobs.
No wonder then that Hitachi Rail has teamed up with other companies to set up a new University Technical College in the north of England. Apparently they were worried they might have to poach employees from nearby Nissan, otherwise.
(This article was originally written in Japanese for Teikoku News)
For more content like this, subscribe to the free Rudlin Consulting Newsletter.