Note: This Q&A was written when Brad Williams was the CEO of the Australian Logistics Council (ALC). He is now in a role at the Australian Trade and Investment Commission.
MHD conducted a Q&A with Brad Williams, now former CEO of the Australian Logistics Council, on the subject of ALC’s recent Forum 2022 – and the organisation’s agenda moving forward.
What was it like hosting the ALC Forum 2022 after years of disruption owing to the pandemic?
It was nice to have the opportunity to get the broader membership, government, and other stakeholders into a room face to face again and to do some networking. And it was great to have what I thought were some pretty enlightening and thought provoking presentations and discussions from the panellists. The combination of great presentations, in-person networking, and fleshing out of the issues affecting our industry made for a great event this year.
What sorts of issues were able to be addressed in person that might not have been possible in an online environment?
I think everyone has by this point effectively pivoted to the online space – and were able to navigate the complex conversations that went on throughout COVID. As an industry we’ve navigated complex border restrictions and extreme weather events, so it wasn’t so much a matter of things being discussed in person that couldn’t have been discussed online. The industry has been very impressive in adapting to online, in my view.
But there is something irreplaceable about the informal aspects of meeting in person. I heard and participated in so many great conversations around the dinner tables during our dinner. And the immediacy of question-and-answer sessions during our presentations perhaps sparked insights that wouldn’t have been possible with a more time-delayed online setting. But if I’m being perfectly honest, it was just wonderful for everyone to get together, have a yarn, and really touch base with each other in a personal manner. That really helps establish long-term relationships – which is a key goal for ALC.
What would you say was the main focus of the forum this year?
The forum and the programme was designed to be future-focused. We really wanted to focus on that because there have been so many immediate challenges and disruptions that the industry have had to deal with in quick succession.
This was an opportunity for ALC to get industry together and take a little step back to focus on the broader picture. ‘What are we doing now?’ ‘What are the next 20 years going to look like?’ ‘What do we need to do now to shape tomorrow’s supply chain?’ It was with these questions in mind that we structured the programme to run as it did.
What has the feedback been like from your partners and the attendees?
The feedback has been terrific. Really positive feedback about our forward-looking agenda – and how we helped provoke and start new conversations. And that’s the role of an organisation like the Australian Logistics Council. We’re not only helping members solve their day-to-day problems; we also play an important role in helping to set the strategic agenda for the sector.
By bringing together our board, our membership base, and government players – we help everyone to think about the challenges that are coming down the track. And I think our Forum achieved that this year.
What are some of the top priorities for ALC this year, in terms of this forward-looking agenda?
Firstly, in the shorter-term, I would say workforce challenges and the availability of the skilled workforce is a key priority for the sector. It’s something that we’ve been focused on for a while and we certainly raised as part of our pre-election priorities for the government and the then-opposition at the time.
In terms of the immediate gaps, we are focused on conversations with government around the skilled migration programme – to help ensure we’re getting that overseas talent that we need.
Focusing on the longer term, we’re focused on getting people trained for the future and skilled up on the future needs of the sector in domains like automation, robotics, and cybersecurity.
The second major priority I would say is rising costs, which are a real challenge for the sector. It’s a difficult thing for industry organisations to deal with, but I think it’s beholden on us to make sure we remind governments and regulators that the cost-challenges facing the entire economy are something our industry is facing, too. So, it’s a matter of advocating for our industry and ensuring that cost-pressures in supply chain are factored into the broader policy framework governments implement to address cost-pressures more broadly.
There are still other short-term challenges that we as an industry have to face: the ongoing shortage of palettes, and the shortage of Adblue that was particularly acute earlier this year. While short-term fixes can be found, we need to keep our eye on the ball in terms of building longer term sovereign capacity to meet these needs.
These considerations tie into the broader focus we at ALC – and the country as a whole – have on developing a resilient supply chain strategy. We are keen to see the review of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, which is scheduled for 2024, be brought forward to early next year as part of the new government’s agenda. We look forward to working with Minister King as she focuses on this aspect of her portfolio and to take the lessons we’ve learned and help the government build those into the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy. It’s important that it’s not simply a document that talks about where we are spending money, but how we are going to make decisions, and how that decision-making process helps build the long-term resilience of the supply chain.
Finally – what were the key takeaways for you from this year’s ALC Forum 2022?
From my perspective, taking a step back it was a matter of answering the question ‘How do we get to 2040 in terms of shaping the supply chain?’ And there were a few key takeaways when looking at the Forum from that perspective.
One of them is undoubtedly how we can meet customer expectations. I heard that consistently at the Forum as a key focus. To meet those expectations involves a few things.
First, the sustainability agenda is now a given – that’s not up for debate anymore. Second, notwithstanding all the technological developments – the freight and logistics sector is essentially a people business. So, we need to build that workforce capacity and focus on building those skills we need for the future.
Third, we need to stay focused on both the gender and cultural diversity of the workforce. That was a really important takeaway for me, because there’s a lot more work to be done on that front.
Fourth, data and interoperability will drive productivity in supply chain and logistics. Data is vital in helping governments directly to de-risk their decision making.
Fifth, for me is the multi-modal focus. It’s not a matter of one method or the other – we’re going to have to look at all modes of transport to meet our national freight task.
All of these factors are key takeaways that the Forum really underlined, and they all contribute to meeting that overall challenge of meeting customer needs and expectations.
Finally – and this is something that ties all of the above together – I think it’s crucial that we continue to build towards a nationally consistent approach to policy development and infrastructure investment. That’s been a big learning out of COVID, where we were having to negotiate between different states that had different rules as trucks drove from Melbourne to Brisbane –different testing regimes, for instance.
So, for me those five key takeaways – and the overlay of needing a nationally consistent approach – were the key ones. And it was these things that I heard the most discussion about both in terms of our panellists, around the dinner table, and passing through the various informal discussions in the hallways at our Forum.
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