Logistics organisations have been on the frontline since the very beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, keeping shelves stocked, PPE supplied to the NHS and critical production lines running.
Of course, ensuring that supply chains continued to flow despite the huge challenges generated by the global pandemic has required the industry to adjust its working practices.
For example, as consumers, some for the first time, experienced the benefits of having goods and food delivered direct to their front door they have turned to online purchasing in record numbers. This has placed additional pressure on retailers, their e-commerce models and fulfilment centres stretching some to breaking point.
For many logistics service providers, this meant hiring more staff and reconfiguring workplaces to ensure that picking and packing could be done in a way that was not only efficient but also allowed social distancing rules to be followed.
The pandemic – and the logistics industry’s response to it – brought into sharp focus just how much the world relies on well-oiled supply chains. Our industry is now mainstream news with the likes of the BBC, Channel 4 News and Sky broadcasting from warehouses of all shapes and sizes.
Despite the worrying spread of COVID-19, staying at home was not on the agenda for those working in the logistics sector and the fact that many consumers probably didn’t notice much difference in terms of speed, reliability and price when buying and receiving goods from online or bricks-and-mortar suppliers is due in no small part to the logistics sector’s outstanding determination to maintain ‘business as usual’.
The threat to global supply chains posed by the Coronavirus has meant that the ‘B-word’ – Brexit – has been bumped down the corporate agenda for the past few months. But that is about to change.
The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has warned its members that “logistics and supply chain managers in the UK face what is possibly their biggest challenge in almost a generation” if the country cannot agree a trade deal with the European Union before the end of 2020.
With negotiations seemingly still bogged down, the introduction of significant barriers to trade is looking increasingly likely. Failure to agree terms will leave British and European importers and exporters facing delays, more customs paperwork and additional costs. However, the serious shortage of labour in the transport and logistics sectors is already becoming Brexit’s gravest consequence. New post-Brexit immigration rules which aim to limit the number of “low-skilled workers” coming to the UK, are only likely to exacerbate the problem as demand for managers, warehouse staff, forklift operators and HGV drivers far exceeds supply.
In the face of these challenges, there is no doubt logistics companies will adapt, persevere and carry on with the job at hand. While developments such as Brexit pose risk, UK operators are staying the course by accelerating their plans to automate facilities and accomplishing incredible feats in warehouse robotics. And, with the rapid expansion of ecommerce likely to be sustained, nobody can say that this isn’t a remarkable time for anyone involved in transport and logistics.
IMHX is the UK’s largest logistics and supply chain exhibition. The next event in the IMHX series takes place on September 14-16, 2021, at the NEC, Birmingham.