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Sam Smith: Climbing The Career Ladder

Having embraced continuous learning development and commitment to a life-long career, Sam Smith, Logistics Assistant of Greenshields Cowie & Co. Ltd, joins us to share his experiences and insights from being an apprentice to climbing the logistics career ladder, why he chose a career in the industry and why he feels others should also consider it.

Sam, it’s fantastic to see you again. Before we get the ball rolling to discuss your great achievements, can you tell us a bit about your background and how this career route has helped you? 

I joined Greenshields Cowie (GSC) as a Logistics Assistant in September 2016 having come from a hospitality, procurement and even an acting background, so becoming part of GSC provided the opportunity to learn an entirely new skill set. GSC is a unique organisation which manages movements of humanitarian aid into developing countries on behalf of world donors, governments and NGOs. We’re a very close team which feels like a second family; but we’re also a focused team of professionals working to ensure that life-saving aid can reach the vulnerable living in remote and rural locations particularly within Africa, Asia and the Middle East. People don’t tend to leave GSC once they join – one of our managers just celebrated 41 years with the company – so I think I’ve found a job for life here!

It must seem like a lifetime ago since you won the Talent in Logistics’ Apprentice of the Year Award in 2018. How has your career developed and changed over the past six months?

I never set out to pursue a career in logistics; I originally wanted to be an actor and was an extra in a few films. The Talent in Logistics Awards was a bit like the Oscars though, wasn’t it! When I saw the Logistics Assistant job advertised at GSC, I submitted an application because it seemed like such an interesting role working within the humanitarian logistics sector and GSC were prepared to take me on as an apprentice without relevant experience or qualifications.

When I started two years ago, I could never have imagined that I would win the Talent in Logistics Apprentice of the Year. In fact, I know I couldn’t have done it without my mentor and GSC’s Air Freight & Disaster Response Specialist, Kellyjo Tapsell – she’s been amazing! Kellyjo has been with GSC for over 21 years and has worked on many disaster response programmes for the UK government. I’ve still got another 19 years to go to reach her level of expertise, but I’m making good progress under her mentorship. In my first year I took the Dangerous Goods by Air Certification and achieved 100% pass mark! That was the first great achievement in my career that I’m really proud of, the second (and most unlikely to be beaten) was hearing my name announced on the night of the award ceremony – and meeting Jeff Stelling too of course!

Since winning Apprentice of the Year, the level of support from GSC and its parent company, Crown Agents, has been amazing! Everyone seems to know me now and people I don’t even know ask me how I am getting on and progressing with my career. I was recently asked to join the Staff Council; to represent the newer recruits, interns and apprentices and raise issues on their behalf.

You seem to be extremely career driven, what opportunities of development look to be on the horizon? 

I was recently given my own client account to manage which has been a massive display of trust and I’m enjoying throwing myself into that. GSC recently submitted a large proposal which we are confident of winning and will bring in a large amount of work. I’ll still be receiving a lot of support from Kellyjo but I have been selected as one of the contributing logistician if we are successful – watch this space!

With the Good Distribution Practice laws being implemented, I am receiving in-house training with my mentor. I have also been given the responsibility of training up GSC’s three new staff members, taking them through GSC processes and teaching them our cloud-based IT System.

You are known for your infectious enthusiasm, reliability and dedication within the workplace, why do you think these traits are important to have for an apprentice?

I never realised that I could enjoy a job so much and actually look forward to coming into work; at GSC I have genuinely found that. I feel really lucky to be here. It’s a great team, the work is challenging and for the first time in my career, I am being encouraged and supported – and I am getting good results! When you are happy in your job and your progression along a clear career path, it’s actually hard not to be enthusiastic, reliable and dedicated. I think these traits develop in apprentices who have found their right place in the sector, and I think employers should look for the potential in candidates to display these traits even if they haven’t got there yet. It’s a two-way street and about seeing the potential in people and giving them a chance.

You first made your appearance in this industry in 2016, how do you thinking your perception of logistics has changed from when you first started?  

When I first started out, I thought logistics was moving things from A to B. I had no idea of the variety of jobs and opportunities on offer and how fascinating the industry is. GSC’s core business is final mile logistics in difficult and often dangerous destinations mainly on behalf of donor aid programmes. Our work needs logisticians who are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty, especially during an emergency response situation. The world of logistics never stops and I find that really exciting.

For example, I never thought I’d be supporting the UK Governments’ response to Hurricane Irma which struck the Caribbean in 2017. Working alongside my mentor, we arranged air freight movements of 210,065 kgs of emergency aid; consisting of shelter kits, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, cutting equipment, Jerry cans and water treatment tablets, hardware lighting towers and corrugated roof sheeting into Antigua, Trinidad & Tobago. We also shipped and delivered vehicles and trucks fitted with fire extinguishers into the Virgin Islands.

During the response, we called upon GSC’s excellent airline network, negotiating humanitarian aid rates with the airlines, and one of their passenger flights sent to collect stranded tourists was utilised and fully loaded with cargo for the Caribbean emergency, free of charge. We also arranged urgent sea freight shipments of emergency supplies from Dubai, India and UK into Port of Spain, where emergency hurricane supplies were being stored, ready for loading onto military vessel RMA Mount Bay before it departed for the island for its manoeuvre round the Caribbean.  I never know what I’ll be working on next and that’s what I love about being an Air Freight and Disaster Response Apprentice.

As an industry, we are starting to see a major skills shortage. With the current crop of middle/senior management leading the strategic decision of an age where retirement is a real and somewhat a pleasant option, many companies are concerned for the future. Why do you think others should consider a career in the logistics industry?

No one day will be the same. You will meet a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds. There are many professional training courses you can attend to improve knowledge and meet your skills gaps. I can recommend BIFA’s Introduction to Freight Forwarding and The Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Air course, but whatever your role or speciality in the logistics sector there will be training courses and apprentice programmes to support you. I came from a challenging personal background so it’s good to know that no matter where you come from or what’s come before, you can better yourself and become part of something bigger. The logistics industry is a great place to start – and hopefully finish!

On the night of the awards Sam was with two of his colleagues who were very passionate and proud of his achievements. Samm Osborne, Business Development Executive at Greenshields Cowie, said that Sam has become one of the most influential and positive members of the team.

“His passion and kindness had gelled our team together and strengthened the family unit that we all feel, value and appreciate. Sam daily restores the team’s love for the job and is the antidote to particularly stressful and busy periods. We were thrilled and so proud when Sam won the Talent in Logistics Apprentice of the Year Award! We had a lot of fun celebrating with him and the other finalists that night. We are really excited about Sam’s future with GSC and look forward to celebrating all his achievements as we continue to support his learning and expose him to greater opportunities for development in his logistics career.”

For 2019, we have made a few changes to the award categories. Whilst the Apprentice of the Year Award has proved ever so successful for the likes of Sam, we felt that we needed to improve this category for the rising stars of the industry.

These highly driven and self-motivated individuals will have stood out from the crowd and made a real difference to the company they work for or logistics industry as a whole. If you have demonstrated innovation, passion and commitment whilst delivering fantastic results, then this is the award for you!

To find out more about the Rising Star Award, click here.