The role of transportation
Transport sits at the heart of modern business and society. We all need to travel at some point in our lives, and the goods we buy are transported to retail outlets, or directly to our doors.
The operation of an efficient and effective transport system is often down to the role of the transportation manager, a critical role to ensure the effects of congestion, vehicle breakdown, or staff shortage do not have an impact on the customer.
Transportation management covers a very diverse range of skills, tasks and specialisations. Whether in the public or private sector, freight or passenger, planning or operations, the dynamic nature of transport makes it a challenging and interesting career choice.
On a personal level, my career in transport has included direct operational management, commercial and network planning, strategic planning and policy and more recently consultancy in a multi-disciplinary company. I have worked in both public and private sector organisations, each having diverse and unique challenges.
The range of opportunities and career choices available in transportation management is what keeps the industry interesting. It is quite common for career progression to take drivers or mechanics up to senior management positions, as well as opportunities for graduate entries.
The role that transport plays in economic stability and social development cannot be understated, but it is often assumed. Herein lies the challenge! We take for granted our transport networks, the fact that deliveries will be made on time, our bus or train will arrive on time, the cost should never increase, and the driver of the vehicle should be polite and good humoured at all times.
Expectations are high, and it is up to the transportation manager to deliver against these expectations by taking, and keeping, control.
The role of a transportation manager
A transportation manager has to be confident and knowledgeable in a number of key areas, some of which are not uniquely related to transport. Depending on the size of the organisation you work for, you may specialise in one of these areas, or more commonly, be expected to be knowledgeable in all of them. Key themes within the industry include:
- Network planning, scheduling and geographical knowledge
- Operational knowledge, vehicle technologies and capabilities
- Licensing and legal compliance
- Commercial management (accounting and financial control)
- Staff employment, welfare, training and development
- Health, safety and environmental management.
- Transport trends.
If you wish to find out how to move into this industry, have a look at our Routes into Logistics & Transport article.
Issues in the transportation industry
The issues and challenges faced by transportation managers in the industry will depend on which sector your company operates in. However, some of the general issues facing the transportation industry, whether private or public sector currently includes:
- Dealing with the effect and additional cost of congestion or crowding. This can occur across all sectors.
- The use of technology to deliver information to public transport users or freight customers, both in planning and making their journeys or deliveries. Also, the impacts of technology on the way people conduct business, which can reduce the need for travel and transportation (such as video conferencing, email and web based resources).
- Growth in use of outsourcing for key specialist personnel through consultancy services, which has implications for project management skills.
- Improving the general image of public transport and encouraging its increased use, against a background of more attractive options (such as affordable car ownership).
- The impact of policies intended to address climate change on your business, such as the legislative impact of vehicle emission standards, or demand management policies such as congestion charging or Low Emission Zones.
- Sustainable distribution is becoming increasingly important. This is usually couched in terms such as ‘food miles’, but the implications affect all types of supply chain and distribution activity.
- Challenges facing land use and transportation planning, especially for large infrastructure projects, and the pattern of development. There is also a need to encourage people to use alternative modes of transportation to the private car (or even to travel less), which has implications for the location of key services and facilities.
The future for transport
Pursuing a career in transportation management can be challenging, rewarding, occasionally frustrating, but never boring. Although there are significant challenges in many sectors such as the availability of funding and maintaining commercial sustainability, this will require managers of a high calibre and with a broad range of specialisations and it provides plenty of opportunity for innovation.