2020: The Year of the Logistician Part 5 of 5

Modern-day superheroes, logisticians have been working tirelessly through the global pandemic to keep the orders fulfilled and the delivery machines running

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Author’s Note: As we wrap up this series together, I thought I’d take a moment to pay tribute to those that have made a silent, yet critical difference during these challenging times.*

A group of teen entrepreneurs developed a PPE distribution network that outpaced FEMA in Georgia, Texas and Florida by delivering over 1 million items to people who needed them. Countless UPS and FedEx drivers rerouted around crowds of protestors to make sure packages got to their recipients on time. And, more than 40 Braskem America employees lived at their plant for 28 days—effectively creating their own “bubble”—in order to keeping making material to protect healthcare workers.

These are just a few examples of why 2020 will go down as the Year of the Logistician, or, the year that warehouse and transportation employees came up on the average consumer’s radar screen. Vital by nature, but largely working behind the scenes up until this point, the logistician keeps the delivery machines running even when a global pandemic is taking its toll on human life, livelihoods, organizations and world economies.

Now, some might argue that 2020 should actually be the Year of the Supply Chain Manager, yet even as supply chains struggled to produce, import and purchase, the people who really kept the goods flowing were still out on the front lines—moving goods wherever they existed from the manufacturing plant to the warehouse to the retail location, and in many cases to our homes. Their “wheels” literally never stopped turning.

When food insecurity increased as a result of the pandemic, a group of university students sprang into action and created Farmlink, a grassroots charitable organization that helped alleviate the food availability differentials created by the pandemic. These innovators designed and implemented a functioning logistics channel to transport surplus produce from farms to food banks in need, with 100% of its donations used to purchase produce and pay farmers’ and truckers’ wages.  

Working tirelessly behind the scenes
Under “normal” circumstances, most logisticians will agree that the only time logistics is given attention in the supply chain is when something breaks, or when someone wants to know “where the heck is my stuff?” It’s an industry that runs a process that both B2C and B2B customers simply assume will work. A customer visits her Amazon app, places an order and expects a box to land on her doorstep in two days or less.

As she brings that package into her home two days later, she’s probably not thinking about how many people it took to turn that screen tap into a fulfilled, delivered order. That order processor, order picker, carrier and last-mile delivery driver are just a few of the key people involved in this process. And even if this consumer somehow has the world’s meanest dog—you know, the one that repeatedly failed obedience training—that driver is still expected to get that package to the door, on time and in perfect condition.

And in the midst of one of the modern world’s greatest pandemics, our humanitarian organization, one that exists to aid disaster relief organizations nationwide – ALAN – somehow kept going. It managed to coordinate efforts to mount up humanitarian assistance for the Nashville tornadoes, flooding in the Southeast, the earthquakes in Puerto Rico, the Iowa derecho and most recently, Hurricane Laura.

ALAN brings the expertise and resources of our logistics industry together with non-profit disaster relief organizations to solve humanity’s most pressing supply chain challenges immediately after disasters strike.

It’s been an exhausting year for sure, but this industry keeps rolling along.

You are our superheroes
If you consider what the world’s delivery channels and supply chains would have looked like without these people, the situation looks pretty dire. And while there were some initial, pandemic-related supply chain hang-ups to work through, imagine just how much longer we would have had to wait for our grocery stores to be replenished if logisticians weren’t out there on the front lines, doing their jobs daily. Every delivery driver, warehouse worker and order taker who came to work when the rest of us were being told to stay home puts his or her life on the line daily.

To all logisticians working around the globe, we want to say thank you for being there for us, and for keeping our critical supply chains in motion during one of the most difficult times in our world’s history. Whether you work in the private or public sector, we salute you for a job well done and want you to know that we truly appreciate everything you’ve done, and that you continue to do for people around the world.

*This is the fourth of five articles that breaks down the key issues that all supply chain managers should focus on as they emerge from COVID-19 and carve a path forward for their organizations. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here.

About the author: Yemisi Bolumole, Ph.D., CLTD-F is Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management at the Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State University. Her areas of research emphasis include the policy and public sector implications for supply chain managers. A regular speaker at sundry professional events, Bolumole currently serves as Chair of ASCM/APICS’ CLTD certification exam committee.


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