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Growing our own warehouse talent

Clare Bottle, UKWA CEO discusses how the industry can attract and nurture talent, particularly during a period of labour shortage, and amidst the ongoing skills gap.

Clare Bottle.jpgPost pandemic hiring is surging in some sectors, including our own. Meanwhile unemployment levels are low – although the end of the Government’s furlough scheme may yet change that – and we are struggling as an industry with both a labour shortage and a skills gap.

Around 2.5 million people are employed in logistics in the UK and about one in five of those work in a warehouse. With the surge of online shopping over the months of lockdown, demand for warehousing is at an all-time high, delivery drivers and warehouse workers have achieved hitherto undreamed-of recognition as essential workers and there are plenty of exciting career opportunities created by new software systems, robotics, sustainability and more.  Gone are the days when working in a warehouse just meant menial, repetitive tasks. Amazon alone are advertising thousands of jobs for software engineers. Yet despite all this positive news, entry level recruitment and career progression rates in warehousing and logistics are stalling.

Clearly, we need to understand why, and tackle the problem with a more coherent strategy.

Firstly, we must widen the talent pool. McKinsey’s 2020 report, Diversity Wins, confirms the business case for inclusion and diversity is stronger than ever, driving performance and profitability. An inclusive culture is a pre-requisite to make any diversity policy work.

Just 5.9% of people with a learning difficulty are in paid employment, for example. XPO Logistics is one company, working alongside WorkFit, the employment program delivered by the Down’s Syndrome Association, that has recognised the opportunity to increase inclusivity and recruit from a pool of people able to work hard and deliver results.

Another example of warehousing and logistics companies thinking outside the box is Clipper Logistics, who along with other UKWA members Culina and XPO, have engaged with Tempus Novo the award-winning charity that helps serving and ex-offenders find employment.

Upon release 64% of prisoners are back in prison within 2 years – for those who find work through Tempus Novo, it’s less than 2%. What’s more, Clipper confirms that by offering training and employment opportunities to ex-offenders, not only are they meeting CSR goals, but they are gaining access to talented people with useful skills who are highly motivated to prove themselves to be good employees.

However, the challenge to attract people into the industry starts with education. Currently there is no GCSE or A level in logistics or supply chain, let alone warehousing. How then are our children meant to find a career in warehousing, if at 18 they have no real idea of what goes on inside a warehouse?

Disappointingly, despite positive feedback from teachers, the Government has now inexplicably decided to defund BTECs too. This speaks of at best of a lack of interest and at worst a lack of respect for vocational skills.

At undergraduate level, there are courses available in logistics, but just 17 UK institutions offer such courses – compare this to 103 universities to choose from to study medicine and 119 for law.

So, how can we redress the balance? For a start, as employers we can go out and talk to young people in schools and encourage schools to organise visits to warehouses and see at first hand the opportunities this dynamic, fast-moving, growing industry has to offer. Think Logistics is a non-profit working group established to promote career opportunities in logistics.  They bring schools and employers together, to deliver on the relevant Gatsby Foundation benchmarks, which were developed specifically to guide schools in improving the quality of their careers advice to students.

Other avenues include Apprenticeships, which provide a good framework in that funding can be used across a broad range of qualifications, from Level 2 – training Fork Lift Truck drivers, to Level 6 – sending candidates to university to study supply chain management at degree level. However, drawbacks include the demand for 20% “off the job” learning and the fact that the Apprenticeship Levy funds training costs, but not salary costs.  Apprenticeship funding may also be hard for SMEs to navigate, but the good news is that UKWA can help broker relationships, introducing our smaller members to Levy-paying companies who have funds to spare.

By comparison, the Kickstart initiative, aimed at 16-24 year olds on Universal Credit, does fund salary (minimum wage), as well as National Insurance and pension for 6 months. It aims to create 250,000 new jobs and was warmly welcomed when it was launched by UKWA. Not least, the Association’s view was that it offered employers the chance to showcase the industry as well as attract young people into jobs.

However, so far it has not been widely taken up by logistics employers and time is running out – the scheme stipulates that Kickstart employees must start work by December this year.                                                                       

There is also the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. Announced last September by the Government, this was trailed as potentially benefiting tens of thousands of adults with hundreds of fully funded training courses at Level 3 (A Level equivalent) from April 2021. These courses include several in logistics; one specifically in warehousing and storage.

Warehousing fits perfectly with this vision; as an industry we represent a vehicle for social mobility, able to recruit those without qualifications, train them for important roles and equip them to build a fulfilling and successful career.

Unfortunately, as the Government website points out, “not all qualifications are offered by all providers”.  No details of live courses are available from the awarding organisation, Highfield Qualifications, and it appears that few, if any, training providers are actually delivering the Level 3 Diploma in Warehousing and Storage (RQF). This is a matter of some concern, and UKWA will be pushing hard to find out more on behalf of our members.

Ultimately, it is down to the sector to provide high quality sector-specific training. The benefits of learning and development are well documented. Not only does training provide the necessary technical skills to do the job, it improves productivity and performance.

Employees who have access to training and professional development increase in confidence, take ownership of their responsibilities and make more loyal workers who are less likely to leave your business – and, as we know, staff retention can be a challenge in our sector.

There is a strong, pent-up demand for training following the months of social distancing and home working during lockdown. Workers are ready to re-engage in their own development, and we need to capitalise on the newly-recognised status of logistics with world class training provision.

This is an issue at the top of our agenda at UKWA – we can and will do more to attract and nurture talent in the industry, so watch this space. New and improved training opportunities are coming soon!

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