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17 January 2019
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Teaching is a two-way street

11 November 2013

This week I am wearing my logistics hat again as I’m running a warehousing and materials management course.

What this means I will re-visiting the delights of standard deviations, calculating point loads and similar mathematics – along with the more practical side of what mechanical aids to use for various applications.

Logistics, as we call it these days, is like a comfortable armchair for me. It’s something I can sink into and enjoy. Looking back, it seems inevitable that I should have found a career in logistics because my early memories of watching the traffic on the Bath Road are dominated by the lorries of the time and the loads they carried. My first job, aged just eleven, was as the village butcher’s boy delivering meat on my big trade bike (before I moved on to add a couple of paper rounds).

Insignificant steps perhaps, but by the time I was fourteen I was helping the farm manager with the books for orders and sales and had taken over management of the school library from the deputy head. Other jobs as a schoolboy included shelf filling at the supermarket and working on both parts counter and fuel pumps at the local garages.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but all these activities were teaching me about logistics and how the supply chain serves the end customer. By the time I reached the last year of my teens, I was being formally taught as a management trainee in a national wholesale business. Even some of those lessons didn’t fully connect at the time, and it was only some ten years later, when I began to join up the dots and put all of that early experience together, that I could make good use of it.

We all learn things without realising it, but even when we realise we have new knowledge we often don’t have anything to apply it to.  That represents a challenge for those of us who train people; we have to try and connect what we are imparting to the actual needs of our audience. Teaching is a two way street.

That’s why I say that I don’t do the same course twice. It may have the same title and use the same slide pack and materials, but it will be subtly, possibly radically different according to  the people attending. By being flexible in delivery and engaging the audience, I also learn – because inviting people to challenge the principles that you teach makes you review your own thinking in the light of a changing world. Debate helps us all understand the issues better and drives progress.

It’s going to be an interesting week for that small boy who looked up in wonder at the lorries that passed him at the bus stop all those years ago. I’ll be trying to impart what I have learned to a group of people from other countries, most of whom will have English as a second language. These are the kind of challenges I look forward to and I am grateful to those who taught me along the way for giving me the skills that enable me to take up these opportunities.

They worked hard on me over the years and, while I may not have understood it all at the time, it all turned out to be useful – not least the lesson that life is what you make of it.

John Bowen is an FM consultant