Why the logistics industry must stop talking to itself – by Louise Cole, Director, White Rose Media

Posted on: Monday, 21 March 2016 by Jackie Langridge in category Media and campaigns

(The views and opinions expressed by the authors of these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Freight Transport Association)

The logistics industry has long had a problem communicating with the general public. Largely those outside the industry don’t know what we do, how we do it or the contribution logistics makes to their daily lives and the UK’s economic health. Yet the idea that goods need to be moved around isn’t a complex one, and at its most basic level even pre-school children know what trucks, ships and trains do. So what’s the problem?

Part of the problem is one of language. In the 1970s Basil Bernstein came up with ‘code theory’. This explained why working class kids did more poorly in language-based subjects. Berstein’s theory also applies to the logistics industry, however. He identified two types of ‘code’ or ways of talking, one for insiders and one for outsiders.

Restricted code is based on a shared understanding between the social group, assumptions about how the world works, organising principles and common experience. In just a few words, people can communicate a whole series of actions or relationships to those ‘in the know’ which would mean nothing to an outsider.

Conversely elaborate code does not expect the listener or reader to share the same knowledge or assumptions. Put simply, it puts things simply. It is more explicit, more thorough and doesn’t expect the listener to read between the lines.

Logistics is fraught with restricted code. A big part of the challenge of becoming a logistics journalist is not understanding the principles of the industry, but in learning to translate the way professionals in the industry talk. You must learn to speak a new language, one full of optimisation, scale, skellies and trunks. In my work I constantly strip jargon from case studies only to have the interviewee fight to replace it from a mistaken belief that it sounds more intelligent, more professional or communicates more thoroughly than the commonplace words I’ve substituted.

It doesn’t. What it does is exclude. It guarantees that the only people for whom your words have meaning are not only already within the industry but often within your sub-sector of the industry. Why does this matter? Doctors and lawyers all use restricted code and we live with it. Yes, but doctors and lawyers do not lack prestige, their role is not misunderstood and vilified by the general public and they do not have a recruitment crisis.

If logistics is going to improve its public image, win the support of voters and policy makers or entice a new generation of worker into employment, it needs to stop talking to itself.
 

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