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The innovation imperative

Glyn Hughes, TIACA
photo_camera Glyn Hughes, TIACA's director general

The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) director general Glyn Hughes explains why innovation is the lifeblood of sustainable success.

A quote, sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein, states the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Sadly, for many a year air cargo could have been accurately accused of being insane if we applied this logic. As new problems arose, we kept applying traditional thinking and tried and tested solutions, whereas we should have thought differently to act differently to achieve different results.

However, Covid shook the proverbial industry tree and forced us to throw away many of the traditional playbooks used. But how do we keep this spirit of innovative thinking and open-minded problem solving and solution finding at the forefront as we move into post-Covid times? And in which areas do we need to focus our innovative energies? That’s an easy one to answer: everywhere.

Every area of this industry needs to innovate to respond to evolving demands and expectations – how we attract talent; build and develop teams; how we communicate with customers, partners and regulators; how we sell and distribute products; how we process and move cargo; and how we design future solutions.

So, let’s start at the beginning. The jobs market is as competitive now as it’s ever been. With new media industries springing up and technologically driven home-based opportunities arising, we have to be more creative to ensure we can continue to attract the most motivated and customer- and solution-oriented workforce possible.

We have to find new channels to engage the next generation. They live on social media and gaming platforms rather than LinkedIn, which continues to be a useful tool to communicate, but mostly within the known community. We have to create new and compelling value propositions: why join air cargo? Because you will positively impact global society, you will save lives, and you will bring smiles to people’s faces.

Once we have their interest, we must demonstrate career paths, continual self-development, the opportunity to give back, to use the latest technology, to be heard, and to be empowered to create value.

We have to look at how we train, we must expand horizons and use online, modular, immersive, VR, 3-D modelling training channels. The incoming generation of workers mostly finished their education remotely, so we need to capture those new methods for mastering information and knowledge flow.

We should explore gamification in the workplace, using badges, levels and recognition of achievement as a means to create that spirit to continually pursue self-development, which in turn will create loyalty and a desire to build collective success.

We must commit to creating an inclusive and diverse workforce. We need distributed knowledge and dynamic multi-faceted thinking. This cannot be achieved if all employees look, act, live and think alike.

We must also create a welcoming and creative work environment that includes peer mentoring, a digital workspace, changing environments and blended work opportunities where practical.

As Richard Branson, Virgin Group CEO says, take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.

But we need to provide tools to support more effective customer interactions. Air cargo must be accessible and easier to do business with. The global manufacturing landscape is becoming more distributed as major producers seek to diversify supply chains and de-risk against production blockages. China +1 or even +2 will become more prevalent.

Micro businesses tapping into global e-commerce platforms to connect with the global community will drive up the need for more air cargo. The growth of fresh, live, perishable, medical, pharmaceutical, and other sensitive commodities require more dynamic information flow from booking to acceptance, to loading, to transport, to clearance and final delivery. This interactive data flow can no longer be considered as nice to have but rather as imperative.

Booking tools, dynamic pricing, capacity control, document and entry processes and confirmations of secure cargo transfers and handovers with transparent condition information must be achieved in real time, machine to machine. Human expertise should be called upon to deal with exception management, operational challenges and account interactions.

With innovation being such a key to success, how many organisations have a chief innovation officer or sustainability champion? How many innovation labs exist? How many high school or technical colleges have supply chain or logistics programmes? How many degree programmes are there to look at future logistics rather than current logistics? There are some, but not enough.

For an industry that transports over US $8.0 trillion in value of goods, over a third of the entire international value of trade, supporting millions of jobs, assisting all nations, developed and developing, to access global markets and enhance their national prosperity, can we say we truly have an innovative mindset?

So, let’s get those creative juices flowing and collaborate to create a better tomorrow. TIACA will soon be opening up the fourth edition of its Sustainability Awards and we encourage everyone to submit an entry, no matter at what stage of development, to inspire and get recognised as an architect of change.

This feature was first published in Airline Cargo Management – February/March 2023. To read the magazine in full, click here.

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