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If you have ever considered a career in the logistics field, this interview with a RFID Manager is a must-read for you! In his interview, the manager shares the ups and downs of his career path, and how he worked his way into management in the growing field of Logistics.

My formal job title is Logistics Manager. I work for a US manufacturer and have been with the company for about ten years. My first job with the company was in operations management, specifically in production control. As part of that job, my department and I were striving to reduce manufacturing cycle time while also reducing the capital that the company had to tie up in raw materials and components for the good it was making. My formal education consists of a B.S. degree in engineering technology, with a minor in accounting. Engineering technology is a general, practical overview form of engineering that provides a broad understanding of many engineering disciplines such as materials engineering, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering and others. It’s good for understanding some of the specific problems of new product or systems development, which was attractive to logistics managers years ago before specific logistics programs began to emerge.

I would describe what I do as working to shave seconds off the trip around the race track. The ultimate goal is to increase quality while decreasing costs. Achieving that goal increases profitability without increasing price, a goal of nearly every forward-thinking company in today’s hypercompetitive business environment. It has been only in the past several years that people enter the traditional areas of logistics purely on purpose. I largely entered through the back door myself, because of my experience in operations management and awareness of the monetary costs of delays, wasted time and otherwise unproductive time. That was in 2004, just after Walmart issued what we refer to as its “mandate” that by 2006, all suppliers to the company would have to provide radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on pallets of goods furnished to Walmart. Walmart had been experimenting with RFID for more than a decade, but as it turned out, putting RFID into practice was far more difficult than researchers had anticipated.

My own company was not a Walmart supplier at the time, but it was trying to gain that position. Senior management knew that we would have to be RFID compliant by 2006 if we were going to have any hope of becoming a primary Walmart supplier. What it did not know at the time was that there were several problems that first needed to be rectified. We learned that despite all the hype surrounding RFID, it still was expensive and it did not perform well around liquids or metal. Given that most warehouse shelving is metal, that created a real problem for existing and would-be Walmart suppliers. Given my background and interaction with logistics management, one of the individuals involved with the RFID project team requested that I be included on the team.

Since my company has been using RFID tags on most of its products, I have come to see just how important this shift is and how much it can mean in the future. It’s more than just the organization’s bottom line, though of course that is important too. Much of what we now refer to as logistics used to be looked on as being where less than capable workers were sent. This is no longer true, which provides me with immense satisfaction in my job. For my part, my engineering and accounting background provides a great framework, because not only am I enthralled with how things work, but I'm also cognizant of how much it may cost and how it affects the overall bottom line. For others, technological advances serve to elevate others’ views of those who work in the former “Shipping” or “Receiving” departments. The service and the people providing it always have been important, but today other people know that, too.

I truly love my job. Every business is pressed to increase profitability. Increasing internal efficiency means that I directly contribute to increased profitability without the need to increase prices. Not all of the necessary technological changes have been perfected and applied, so there is more and greater savings possible through the use of RFID technology in logistics management. Because technology can enhance profitability, there is less need for my company to reduce headcount to avoid raising prices. Someone’s job remains, but neither do our customers pay more for our products. As all kinds of budgets – corporate, household and personal – are stressed in the current economic environment, I take pride in the fact that I'm able to play a direct part.

If there’s anything unique about my situation, it’s that I didn’t overtly set out to find a career in logistics. I enjoy working on finding a broader horizon for RFID technology, but I very easily could have missed it. If I had not taken the assignment to the logistics project team, I would not now be in the position I hold and I would not be making contributions on the scale that I am able to achieve. I would urge everyone to carefully consider opportunities presented to them. I never would have said a decade ago that I wanted to work in logistics. Today, I can’t imagine working in any other area. In many ways, logistics represents the “last frontier” in achieving greater internal efficiency and contributing to the creation of lasting and more satisfying jobs and work. It could not have been all that satisfying to track pallets through a warehouse in the past when it had to be done manually. The ability to use RFID unleashes a human mind for much higher applications, while increasing profitability and therefore preserving existing jobs. In part because it carries so much promise for the organization and for industry in general, salaries are similar to other general engineering positions. Of course I would not turn down a higher salary, but neither do I have any trouble providing a satisfying life for myself and my family. I can maintain a healthy work-life balance, and we enjoy all of the vacations that the company generously allows.

Five years from now, I hope to see RFID firmly entrenched, at least at the pallet level. It will take additional time to take RFID to the item level, and I hope to be involved in developing that as well.