Gateways are corridors to success, transportation leaders say

TORONTO — In an increasingly global economy, Canada has a head start on the U.S., but it must continue to build its gateway strategies and rebuild its aging infrastructure.

That was the key message from transportation executives at a "State of Logistics" round-table event in Toronto on April 6.

Doug Harrison, president of Calyx Transportation Group, and Peter Ladouceur, assistant vice-president of sales and marketing for CN, addressed more than 100 logisticians at the event, organized by the Toronto chapter of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP).

"I think the U.S. has greater infrastructure issues, no doubt about it. From a competitive standpoint that should give our country a leg up on them," said Harrison. "But as the economy improves there’s a question of how our ports, rail, and other publically shared facilities will recover and gain leverage."

He said the federal, provincial, and even local governments in Canada must be aware that transportation and logistics are key elements of the economy, and if Canada is going to continue to be productive in a global setting, there must be greater investment on that infrastructure.

"Canada’s future will be made on more of our natural resource sector," he said. "I’m not sure we have the infrastructure to continue to drive growth."

Ladouceur also spoke of the importance of maintaining infrastructure in order to strengthen supply chains.

“Globalization is great for a whole number of reasons," he said. "But globalization also means your supply chain is incredibly long, and just about anything can screw up a supply chain. Typhoons. Railroad incidents. Stevedores that don’t work on Easter Friday – that’s a real life example from Vancouver. There’s a whole lot of things that can happen to supply chains. And while it’s great to have lower labour costs, there’s a lot of work required to keep them going."

He said Canada’s true strength is its appreciation of gateway strategies.

"We’re often humble, here in Canada, about what we do day in and day out, whereas we should really be proud, especially when you stack us up against other competing gateways," he said. "I’ve seen a bunch of them in Canada. And they are absolutely fantastic ways to get stuff into North America."

It’s one of the things Canadians do right, he said.

"I’m not taking a shot at the U.S. ports, but we have our act together here in a way that they envy. And they’re only now starting to figure out this whole gateway thing."

Ladouceur cited the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as a comparison to Port Metro Vancouver.

"They have this mammoth facility, the biggest port in North America, and they have a line running down the middle of it because one side of it is Long Beach jurisdiction, and the other is L.A. Different policies, different agreements," he said. "If that were Canada, it would probably be one port authority and they wouldn’t be competing against each other. That’s what Port Metro Vancouver did. All the ports were competing against each other. It was crazy, so they collapsed it all into one, and now there’s one big cohesive strategy for Vancouver."

Harrison said Canadians have embraced transportation corridors at the federal, provincial, and local levels.

"There is probably a position that can be made that Canada should be the entry point for global trade into North America," he said. "I think we’re seeing some of that start to evolve but in our true typical Canadian style, I think we’re understated about that opportunity."

The two industry leaders also spent a fair bit of time discussing the possibility of a skilled trade shortage.

"One of the key restrictions, not only for service providers, but for any company in Canada will be the availability of skilled talent," said Harrison. "As the economy improves, we’ll be back to very low unemployment rates and the shortage of skilled talent that the country was starting to face leading into the downturn."

He suggested the education system does not do a good job of promoting supply chain careers.

"We’re slowly coming up to speed on that, but we still have a long way to go. If you look for well-trained logistics talent, at the post-graduate level, it’s still relatively scarce," he said.

"In our business, in the next five to seven years, 50% of the workforce is going to retire with a big old smile on their faces," said Ladouceur. "These people make pretty good money. It’s not rocket science, but being a locomotive conductor or engineer, these are good jobs, with pensions and benefits and all the rest of it. I worry sometimes, as a logistician, that the young people that are coming up these days, either don’t know about this, don’t care about this, or even if they do know and do care, they don’t want anything to do with it."

Today’s young people may not be looking for the kind of jobs offered in logistics, but it’s critical that we find workers, he said.

"Where will the next generation of long-haul, over-the-road truckers come from who are will to be away from their families for five nights a week? Where will the locomotive engineers and conductors come from? These are good paying jobs, and our kids don’t really understand them."

He said the industry needs to do more to make our profession more attractive to young people.

"We as professionals need to think about renewal, because we need people to drive the trains and the trucks and run the warehouses," he said. "It’s what we do."

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