Distribution Manager

The Job and What's Involved

Distribution managers plan and manage the control and movement of goods or raw materials. Using sophisticated telecommunications systems, they work with purchasing officers, warehouse managers and transport managers to make sure that the right goods are delivered on time to the right place, at the right price.

Typical work activities vary considerably, but may include:

  • Monitoring stock levels.
  • Re-ordering goods as required.
  • Arranging the purchasing and supply of equipment.
  • Arranging transport.
  • Tracking the movement and return of goods by computer and ensuring their security.
  • Overseeing the ordering process and the packaging of goods ready for dispatch.
  • Arranging to 'outsource' any of the above functions.
  • Managing staff, including recruitment, training and health and safety procedures.
  • Evaluating quotations and preparing contracts.
  • Forecasting stock levels, delivery times and costs.
  • Co-ordinating information across the supply chain.
  • Reviewing supply networks and developing more efficient systems.
  • Adapting systems in line with new legislation or environmental constraints.
  • Troubleshooting problems and emergencies.
  • Using advanced computer systems to provide specialist services.

Working hours vary. Distribution managers sometimes have to work evenings and weekends on a rota, or be on call to deal with emergencies. Many firms run 24-hour operations, and managers may have to work shifts. The work can involve travel away from home, including overseas.

Distribution managers are usually based in computerised offices, but may spend much of their time in warehouses, depots or manufacturing units, or visiting customers.

Self-employment is possible for experienced managers. Part-time work is relatively uncommon.

Starting salaries may be around £19,000 a year. Managers often receive considerable performance-related bonuses and other benefits, such as a company car or health insurance.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

A wide range of UK organisations employ distribution managers. They range from small firms that operate locally, to national and multinational companies. Employers include wholesalers, warehousing and distribution firms, manufacturers, freight forwarders, central and local government, public utilities such as water, gas and electricity companies, major retailers, charities and the Armed Forces. Some distribution managers work for specialist distribution consultancies.

London, the North West, the West Midlands, the South East and Scotland are main centres of the UK logistics industry.

There are over 83,000 distribution and transport managers in the UK. Opportunities are continuing to rise.

Vacancies may be advertised on the websites of relevant professional bodies and specialist recruitment agencies. They also appear in the national press and the specialist trade publications such as Freight and Logistics & Transport Focus.

Education and Training

Formal qualifications are not always necessary. It is possible to start in a junior post, for example as a transport clerk, and with training and experience work up to supervisory and management positions. However, the increasing complexity of the logistics industry means that many employers ask for a higher education qualification.

Some employers accept any degree or HND, but others insist on relevant subjects such as international transport, logistics, supply chain management, transport management or geography. Larger employers often specify a minimum level of degree qualification. Selection procedures for graduate traineeships can be complex and often include presentations and psychometric tests.

For a degree course, applicants normally need at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications.

For HNC's/HND's, entrants normally need at least one A level/two or three H grades and four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications such as a BTEC national certificate/diploma in a relevant subject.

In England, there is also a range of Foundation degrees in logistics or similar subjects.

An Apprenticeship in traffic office or wholesaling, distribution, warehousing and storage could also lead to opportunities in distribution management.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A growing number of postgraduate courses are available, which may improve chances of entry and progression. These include an MSc in Transport Management, an MSc in Purchasing and Supply Chain Management, and an MSc in Logistics. Employers' recruitment literature often says whether further qualifications are preferred.

At all levels of recruitment a period of previous work experience in a logistics company can be helpful.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Several employers offer graduate training schemes lasting up to two years.

It is common for distribution managers to take professional qualifications, such as:

The Department of Transport approved Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC).

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) UK certificate, diploma or advanced diploma.

Other certificates and diplomas offered by the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS), The Institute of Operations Management (IOM) or the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM).

Managers can also work towards NVQ's/SVQ's, including Levels 3 and 4 in Distribution and Warehousing Operations and Level 3 in Storage and Warehousing or Traffic Office. Other relevant NVQ's/SVQ's include administration, accounting and information technology.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Distribution managers should be able to:

  • Work logically and systematically.
  • Motivate and manage a team.
  • Plan ahead and manage change.
  • Provide innovative solutions to unforeseen problems.
  • Deal with people effectively.
  • Pay attention to detail and work accurately.
  • Communicate and negotiate.
  • Work with figures.
  • Use computer packages, including spreadsheets and databases.
  • Manage complicated projects and juggle priorities.
  • Make good use of their own time.
  • Work well under pressure.

Your Long Term Prospects

Career prospects in the logistics industry are extensive and varied, but often require a willingness to be mobile. Opportunities may be improved by acquiring a Certificate or Diploma in Management Studies (CMS/DMS) and/or a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) or Logistics.

Promotion may involve management of larger units or more strategic roles. Senior positions often involve business development or consultancy work, with scope for foreign travel and research. It is possible to move into more general management functions, such as human resources or financial management. There are also a number of specialist opportunities within distribution, warehousing and transport.

Get Further Information

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) UK,
Logistics and Transport Centre, Earlstrees Court,
Earlstrees Road, Corby, Northamptonshire NN17 4AX
Tel: 01536 740100
Website: www.ciltuk.org.uk

The Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply,
Easton House, Easton on the Hill, Stamford, Lincolnshire PE9 3NZ
Tel: 01780 756777
Website: www.cips.org

Institute of Grocery Distribution,
Grange Lane, Letchmore Heath, Watford WD25 8GD
Tel: 01923 857141
Website: www.igd.com

Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM),
Stowe House, Netherstowe, Lichfield, Staffordshire WS13 6TJ
Tel: 01543 266867
Website: www.i-l-m.com

The Institute of Operations Management (IOM), University of Warwick,
Science Park, Sir William Lyons Road, Coventry CV4 7EZ
Tel: 02476 692266
Website: www.iomnet.org.uk

Skills for Logistics, 14 Warren Yard,
Warren Farm Office Village,
Milton Keynes MK12 5NW
Tel: 01908 313360
Websites: www.skillsforlogistics.org and www.careersinlogistics.co.uk

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