A coffee with... Vitor Figueiredo, Chairman of the Board of the Portuguese Association of Logistics Operators (APOL)


Empack and Logistics & Automation Porto:

Tell us about yourself and your career in the logistics sector. How is the day-to-day life of the Chairman of the Board of the Portuguese Association of Logistics Operators (APOL)?

Vitor Figueiredo:

My name is Vitor Figueiredo, I am 45 years old and I have a degree in economics. I started my career as a consultant in one of the big 4 and held several management and administrative positions in Portugal and the United States. My connection to logistics starts in 2006 when I joined a position at Univeg in Portugal. I was then transferred to the United States, where I held management positions, including Logistics. In 2010 I returned to Portugal as Managing Director of Greenyard in Portugal, a logistics operator dedicated to the food sector, which later, due to a change in the shareholder structure, was the genesis of the Zolve/Logifrio group. My experience in the logistics sector was related to the management of international imports and the role of logistics operator, always focused on food products and more specifically temperature controlled.

Currently, I am the Iberian CEO of the Zolve/Logifrio group and my mission is to grow the company and strengthen the business model, always in a sustainable way.

My day-to-day is very demanding, divided between Portugal and Spain. Time is, without a doubt, the most difficult resource to manage. Even so, I try to play a broad role in society, providing mentoring support to Startup organisations and teaching some classes, whenever I am invited.

As President of APOL, my mission is to defend the interests of logistics operators, actively intervening in the sector and increasing the Association’s representation base. In this almost one year of mandate I think there is still much to do, but there is a notorious evolution of the role of the association and recognised by the sector.

Empack and Logistics & Automation Porto:

In your opinion, what are the most pertinent current challenges in the Logistics sector in Portugal?

Vitor Figueiredo:

The logistics operator sector is currently facing several pressures, namely the generalised increase in prices, especially energy and fuel prices, a shortage of professionals willing and able to work in the sector and various interruptions to supply chains that put great pressure on the functions of logistics operators.

The logistics sector is currently facing a significant shortage of virtually all professional profiles. This has been a sector with strong growth and professionalisation. It has probably been one of the sectors that has incorporated the most technology in recent years, but at the same time has generated the most employment.

With regard to the specific and more undifferentiated workforce, despite increasing automation, there are many tasks that require significant customisation. Difficulties with article master data, resistance to adopting container standards, and delays in implementing secure electronic transfer of information in the chain, put additional pressure on the human resources available to the sector.

With regard to a more specialised workforce, it is true that we have seen an increasing number of professionals trained in the sector, and we recognise the excellent work done by universities. However, even so, we continue to see an imbalance, with demand for professionals far outstripping supply, not only because professionals are few in number, but also because some of them choose to pursue international careers.

As for professionals trained in technology, robotics and automation, the labour shortage is general and not only affects the logistics sector.

APOL plans to be able to interact more with universities in order to define the profiles with the greatest demand and thus help universities to fine-tune their courses. If this problem is not resolved, it risks severely limiting the development and evolution of the sector.


Empack and Logistics & Automation Porto:

What is APOL’s main mission at the moment and what role has it played in the fight for measures that help operators in the sector?

Vitor Figueiredo:

APOL’s constitution had the objective of generating the best conditions for the promotion of the activity of subcontracting operations of a logistical nature to increase the representativeness of the sector, speaking with one voice.

In general, APOL aims not only to promote a logistics service sector recognised as an area of knowledge and value creation, but also to provide a forum for sharing, discussing and disseminating issues that influence the best development of logistics operators.

The Association has had contact with the political power, mainly in an advisory manner to the bills that have been created and that affect the sector. The creation and improvement of the Single Logistics Window (JUL) has been an example of this. Also when the rules of loading and unloading were changed, the association was heard by the government.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the Association has several contacts with the various governments, the attention that the political power has given to the sector has had difficulty in materialising. This is a point on which we need to continue to insist so that the sector is treated with the relevance it deserves.

Empack and Logistics & Automation Porto:

After the great role that logistics played during the pandemic, what are the main changes in the sector since then?

Vitor Figueiredo:

The Logistics sector, like the world, is going through a very peculiar moment. Some of the trends are due to the great disruption caused by the pandemic, others were already underway before, but were accelerated, others were aggravated by the war in Europe.

The last few years have been a time of great instability and uncertainty in society and this has added pressure to the logistics sector. Likewise, all this instability has increased the focus and effects on supply chains. The logistics sector, both because of its importance and its global dynamics, was perhaps one of the first sectors to be hit by this trend of instability. We saw strong changes, first at the time of the pandemic and then in the recovery of consumption, which was very asymmetrical in terms of channels, geographies, volumes and seasonality. In addition, labour shortages and recruitment difficulties have also haunted the sector for a long time. In recent years, the logistics sector has perhaps been one of the sectors that has most integrated technology into its processes. At the same time, it has perhaps been one of the sectors that has generated the most employment, so labour shortages are a serious issue that concerns all operators.

On a less positive note, global geopolitical instability and the hardening of relations between regions may mean a decrease in the openness of economies and consequently in international trade. If this trend were to occur, it could also mean a RE-industrialisation of Europe that would not be possible without attracting labour from outside the continent.

In the light of recent events, society has realised how fragile and dependent supply chains were on certain geographical areas, mainly Asia. The crisis in certain sectors, such as personal protective devices or microchips, for example, coupled with an extremely significant increase in intercontinental freight, has called into question the way supply chains were organised, questioning certain paradigms that were previously unthinkable, such as the need to have minimum strategic stocks and even the need to repatriate industrial activities that had been discontinued in the European sector. Throughout history, we have seen this type of economic climate several times and the truth is that everything indicates that it will not be a passing crisis, although the economy reacts today in a very different way and at a different speed than in the past.

Empack and Logistics & Automation Porto:

What is the role of Logistics Operators in relation to sustainability and how can they ensure its increase?

Vitor Figueiredo:

There is now a huge pressure from society to reduce the impact of Supply chain activities. The energy transition is happening alongside an energy crisis that has been further aggravated by the war situation in Europe. From an economic point of view, the war has an extremely worrying dimension because it hits the entire economy at a very particular time. In addition, this situation delays some changes in the sense of transforming activities to make them more sustainable from an environmental point of view. After 2 years of pandemic, with an energy crisis already underway before the conflict and with a very marked inflationary trend, there could be no worse timing for this whole situation. In addition, all the uncertainty and the possibility of rising interest rates will have a damaging effect on investment capacity.

The trend towards decarbonisation is inevitable and extremely urgent, but in the current scenario it faces significant pressures, not least in terms of cost. We believe that no change is easy and without sacrifice. Decarbonisation will be no exception.

Logistics operators, as companies specialised in the sector, have a key role to play in the transition of supply chains, not only by increasing efficiency, but also by increasing transparency that allows informed decisions to be made.

Empack and Logistics & Automation Porto:

In your opinion, what is the importance of bringing together the various sectors of logistics, packaging and transport in an event like Empack e Logistics & Automaition?

Vitor Figueiredo:

Logistics is a very open, co-operative sector with a unique transparency. Even so, there are many potential synergies, by collaboration, that are still unexplored and that could benefit not only logistics operators, but all the various players in the supply chain. Events such as Empack and Logistics & Automation are key to sharing knowledge and breaking down barriers that do nothing to benefit the sector.

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