87% of transport and logistics SMEs have ‘concerning’ skills gaps in UK project management – APM survey

Almost nine in ten small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in the UK transport and logistics sector have been identified with “concerning” skills shortages in project management, putting at risk the delivery of future projects, a survey by the Association for Project Management (APM), the chartered membership organisation for the project profession, has found.

APM polled over 500 project professionals working for UK SMEs and 87% in the transport and logistics sector said their employer needs to improve project skills across the workforce.

Apprenticeships were ranked as the second most popular solution to the skills gap (selected by 45% of respondents) behind on the job training and greater awareness of project management as a profession (both 50%). Respondents could choose multiple options.

The skills gap featured prominently when the survey asked about the biggest challenges facing future project growth. The top-rated answer was ‘accessing enough people with the right project related skills’ (selected by 57% of respondents) followed by ‘Technology infrastructure inadequate to meet end user needs’ (39%) as well as ‘A lack of understanding among employers or team leaders of future skills needs for project professionals’ and ‘Lack of investment in training/professional development within my organisation’ (both 30%).

A large majority (91%) said their employer has enough time and resources to dedicate to training and development for project professionals. In addition, 96% said their SME places value on training and developing or upskilling project professionals.

Meanwhile, soft and technical skills emerged as the most important skills for project delivery. Communication and interpersonal skills (30%) was the highest rated answer followed by team management, risk management, planning, data literacy skills, and AI-related skills (all 22%). The least popular skills were conflict resolution and budgeting (both 0%).

Professor Adam Boddison OBE, Chief Executive of APM, said: “Our survey sheds vital light on the critical need for SMEs in the UK transport and logistics to prioritise investment in project management. While it is somewhat encouraging that most employers appear to understand the unique value of project professionals, it is concerning that 87% of respondents believe their SME needs to improve project skills at such a critical time with net zero, technology and global events disrupting business activity.

“Project professionals are at the forefront of delivering growth and change in the sector but they need skills investment in order to provide real-time solutions for difficult challenges.

“As SMEs and the wider transport and logistics sector navigate an increasingly dynamic landscape, the need to manage projects effectively becomes ever more paramount for sustained growth and success. By taking action now to invest in project skills, employers can better streamline their operations and help ensure projects are delivered to budget, timescales and quality.”

The skills gap is defined as the disparity between skills employers need or find desirable and the skills current or future employees possess to meet job role demands. The term dates to the 1990s but long-standing concerns over the skills gap remain in the transport and logistics sector, exacerbated by globalisation, technology and the need for more specialised skills.

The survey follows APM’s recent Golden Thread Report 2024, conducted by PwC Research, which found project management in the UK contributes £186.8 billion of annual gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy across all sectors – a growth of over £30bn in five years. For the transport and logistics sector within project management, the GVA had increased by 33% from £3.56bn to £4.73bn.

The profession now employs an estimated 2.32 million full-time equivalent workers (FTEs), the report also found. It means 8.5% of the UK’s total FTEs are employed in project-related roles and the profession delivers over 9% of total UK GVA – a key measure of productivity.

Professor Adam Boddison added: “As the chartered body for the profession, APM is committed to helping SMEs within the UK transport and logistics sector to overcome any barriers they may face to bridge the skills gap with support and resources designed to empower their workforce with the necessary project skills.”

APM is committed to developing and promoting the value of project management to deliver improved project outcomes for the benefit of society. It supports SME project professionals within transport and logistics with memberships, qualifications, chartered status, events, research and its online community hub. To learn more, visit www.apm.org.uk.