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Working in logistics

Working in logistics
OK, I actually started by studying engineering at university. I did a general engineering course. I chose that because I loved problem solving, and I was good at maths, and I hated writing essays, so engineering sounded like a good thing to do. I actually found that the course that I was doing, I found quite frustrating to start with. It was very, very theoretical, and I missed the people stuff. So I was fortunate enough to move into manufacturing engineering for my masters, which for me was just an epiphany. I absolutely loved it, loved it. And I thought, this is fantastic. This is for me.
I love the technical skills, and I love the people contact and I love the processes, and this is what I want to do. I continued with manufacturing engineering, and I was fortunate to get a graduate traineeship at Pilkington Glass. And I spent six years studying to become a chartered mechanical engineer. And I was actually the first and youngest woman chief engineer in the Pilkington Group. And I really enjoyed that, but I realised that if my career was going to look like being chief engineer at bigger and bigger factories, and I was missing the contact with the front end of the business.
And I, in the kind of way that you do when you’re in your 20s, I kind of went, I’m going to go just apply for random jobs. And I actually got some great piece of advice from a guy who recruited me. He said, actually, supply chain need people like you. Supply chain need technical people. And so I moved into retail. And I moved into ice and frozen foods. And I was their engineering manager to start with, and then got more into supply chain roles. And again, found a bit like university, I felt like I was coming home.
I got a mixture of the technical piece, a mixture of working with people, and getting to work with processes, and I really enjoyed that. Continued in that vein, worked for TNS Stores, which got took over by Tesco, which was a fascinating time, lots of change, just at the time when retail was actually starting to downscale and to really think about convenience stores and think about the… turning things faster, rather than just the large scale of superstores.
And then decided that I wanted to start a family, and I actually took the decision to move into consulting for a few years. I was in a front-end operational role, and when you’ve got a young family, that’s a tough job to be doing. So I did consulting for a couple years, which I enjoyed. Allowed me to have two children. But actually also found that I really missed having my own train set. So I enjoyed advising people on their own train set, but I enjoyed having my own train set. So I went back into operations, distribution director for Argos. I have continued in operations and supply chain, most recently working for Amazon.
I was the UK supply chain director for Amazon, also responsible for pan-European inbound. And that role is very much a strategic planning role. It’s really looking at data. It’s looking at forward planning. It’s understanding operational capabilities, and from that creating the plans and managing the execution of those plans through the whole year, and particularly through critical events like Christmas, which is obviously really big, and Easter and any other critical retail events. At the same time, taking a pan-European view and really thinking about, how do we get the back end, the supply chain, which is coming into Amazon, working more effectively? How do we work with suppliers in order to get that processes working better?
So a really interesting mixture of strategic, but actually execution. So I guess the first one was actually deciding to move from engineering into supply chain, and really deciding that I wanted to be more involved in the business. And whilst I enjoyed the technical, I wanted to be more closely involved in the business. And certainly a decision I think I’m very glad I made.
We’ve talked briefly about the decision to go into consulting, which I think I learnt a lot about and worked well with my family life at the time, but also taught me that actually, I like operations.
And probably actually the decision to join Amazon. When I got offered the job at Amazon, Amazon wasn’t the big company that it is now. It was a little-known American company, and it wasn’t obvious that that was a good decision. And certainly I’ve learnt an awful lot from working for Amazon. So I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to kind of zig-zag between the strategic technical stuff, that intellectual piece that is supply chain, and also the front-end operational piece. And I think if you can achieve that in your career, I think that really helps, because understanding how both parts of the puzzle work is extremely helpful.
I think the other thing that I would say is supply chain is becoming more and more technical. Everyone’s talking about big data at the moment. Everyone’s talking about artificial intelligence, robotics. And I think coming into supply chain, you need to understand that. So having an engineering or a technical background is massively helpful now. And I was doing some work for Cambridge University recently, and the demographics say that the demand for first and second degrees is going to increase by 26% in the next five years. And I think people really need to take that technical skill set seriously and bring that into supply chain.

Have you ever thought about a career logistics? What kind of jobs are there?

Up until recently there were very few courses in logistics – logistics was rarely taught in schools – why do you think that is? Watch the video above, an interview with Catherine McDermott, about her experiences and career in logistics.

As a logistician you can be involved in not only transport and warehousing but also Human resource management (managing people) , Finance (producing budgets) Customer service, Project Management, Engineering and Sales and marketing (if you decide to work for a third party logistics company).

Catherine McDermott is a senior operational leader with extensive supply chain and board experience, combining creative and strategic thinking with the practical skills of successfully delivering results. Catherine has a broad and deep knowledge of a range of operations from large to small-scale logistics and has experience of successfully designing and delivering world class, leading edge business change programmes and improvements. Catherine did a degree in engineering so you don’t have to do logistics at degree level to work in this field although as she says having good Maths skills is an advantage!

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