Focusing on freight for a fulfilling future

Tremendous opportunities exist in the world of freight and logistics for mid-career professionals and young people looking for a new and rewarding challenge.

Ever considered a job in freight and logistics? Multi-linguist Francesca Caramelle hadn’t until she found herself promoting the work of technology firms developing new systems to aid the movement of goods across countries and between continents.

Now she is keen to spread the word among those looking for a career change or starting out in the world of work that there is more to the sector than driving lorries and vans.

“Before I started in freight, I didn’t pay much attention to how goods are moved around. The doorbell would ring, a parcel would arrive and that was that. But now I realise there is a whole pipeline of technology and systems that go on behind the scenes, with many different people working together to make deliveries happen.”

Francesca works as an SME Development Manager for Connected Places Catapult. Her job involves helping small companies with bright ideas to improve how goods are moved by road, rail, sea or air develop their technology systems and bring them to market.

She also works as part of the Department for Transport’s Freight Innovation Fund, which features a Freight Innovation Cluster of firms and representatives looking to push the sector forward, and the Freight Innovation Accelerator where companies work to address a series of challenges.

But while her career journey into freight may not be typical of her peers, it demonstrates that those with transferrable skills and ambition can make the switch.

Fluent in several languages

Francesca gained a Masters degree in politics, worked in industrial policy in Brussels and is fluent in German, Spanish, English and Italian. Her previous employer championed new satellite technology, grounding her in highly complex digital systems. Starting her new position with the Catapult last year, she found conversing in multiple languages to be a great asset when liaising with freight and logistics specialists across Europe.

“I’m hoping to encourage more young people, career professionals and those with skills in business, construction or technology that a career in freight and logistics is a good idea; because at the moment very few people realise that it is.”

Francesca points out that Connected Places Catapult has just launched a project to help SMEs develop technologies and showcase them to the sector: nine companies have recently been selected for the first cohort of the Catapult’s new ‘Freight Innovation Accelerator’. Logistics specialists from the Catapult will work alongside the small firms, awarding grant funding and helping them navigate one of three challenges for the first accelerator covering intermodal hubs, data collection and sharing, and last mile logistics.

She says recent years have demonstrated how important freight and logistics are to the country. “During the pandemic, we all realised how dependent we are on timely deliveries to our homes, and the Government has highlighted that freight represents a high value opportunity for the UK.”

Challenges that professionals working in the sector can help to address include tackling air pollution caused by lorries, ships and planes as well as ways of making ports and intermodal hubs work more efficiently to ensure the transfer of goods is as swift and seamless as possible.

Technical advances being trialled in maritime freight includes the use of autonomous vehicles in ports, and new ideas are being developed to decarbonise ships such as using hydrogen or solar power. In rail, the Catapult is talking to the Great British Railways Transition Team about how more freight can be transferred to the tracks to reduce road haulage.

Encouraging wellbeing and diversity

Use of multi-modal logistics and intermodal transport are also areas of focus. Francesca explains this development could help to improve the wellbeing of drivers who otherwise would have to drive for days across continents and may have to sleep in unfavourable locations such as in roadside laybys. But if long journeys are inevitable, technology can help with apps that show hauliers where to locate suitable rest areas around the country, she adds.

Francesca is particularly keen to encourage more women, young people, those from underrepresented groups and people with disabilities to seek out careers in the sector. “It is disheartening not to see more people in the sector below the age of 30 or of colour,” she says.

“Diversity brings a number of different perspectives to the sector, including more critical thinking when it comes to introducing innovation and new ideas.” To this end the Catapult has appointed an Advisory Board for the Freight Innovation Cluster with representation from young people, those from underrepresented groups, those with disabilities and professionals with experience working in other sectors.

“The Cluster fosters collaborative innovation and encourages commercial partnerships, but also ignites and encourages a shift in mindset which the industry needs to progress with the times.”

Later this year the Cluster is looking to organise a ‘hackathon’ event where undergraduates will work with businesses in the freight and logistics sector to develop enterprising ideas and explore the best way to inspire young people to join freight organisations.

And for mid-career professionals looking to make a change, she offers this advice: “Never be scared to challenge yourself; you never know where you may end up.”