Building a 21st Century Warehouse Workforce

A business’s most valuable asset is undoubtedly its staff: the UK Warehousing Association’s members have identified training and education as high priorities. Continuing Zupplychain’s series of reports from this year’s UKWA conference, we now turn to the final session of the first day which explored how the warehouse and distribution industry recruits and retains people.

The session considered the future of the new apprenticeship standards and examined how commitment to staff welfare promotes performance, retention rates and ultimately saves costs. The speakers were: Clare Bottle, Associate Director of GB Supply Chain for Coca Cola European Partners; Dr David Barnes, Head of Department of Business Information Management and Operations at the University of Westminster; and Stuart Scullion from Punter Southall, a regular speaker on health and wellbeing issues.

Dr David Barnes opened the session and asked how many people actually want to work in the logistics or how many people actively seek a career in logistics? David spoke about how his department is actively seeking new innovative ways to encourage students to consider a career in logistics, warehousing and distribution. David commented on Zupplychain during the session, identifying the warehouse space/pallet storage search engine concept as an interesting example of digital innovation within the sector which can attract the digital-savvy generation into a logistics career.

David went on to explore the current relationship between universities and the logistics industry and questioned how many logistics businesses go to universities to ask for help with recruitment. Businesses undoubtedly perceive universities as only being only focussed on the academic. David and his team at the Westminster Business School are keen for logistics businesses to work closer together to address the skills shortage within the industry.

Also touched upon was the comparison of the warehouse operations of Sports Direct and John Lewis. The negative press surrounding Sports Direct’s Shirebrook site and its warehousing operations can only have a detrimental effect on recruitment into the industry. David compared this to John Lewis’ Magna Park sites and their investment in cutting edge warehousing technology.

The first talk concluded by stating that universities and businesses must work towards a common goal of encouraging more people into the warehouse and distribution sector. Businesses and universities could work together and develop more vocational degrees that address the current skills gaps and labour recruitment and retention issues that exist in logistics.

Clare Bottle from Coca Cola European Partners continued the discussion. Clare is keen to attract the highest levels of talent into the logistics industry and has specific interest in inclusion and diversity and the role of women within the workplace.

Clare started her session by showing a slide with a photo of her great grandfather’s haulage business – Charles Stannard & Sons. Clare went on to tell the audience that Charles’ six sons all went on to follow him into the family business but his one daughter wasn’t allowed. Clare thought that Charles would be quite bemused by the fact that his great grand-daughter was a senior member of Coca Cola’s European Supply Chain Team and presenting at a conference for an industry that has historically been dominated by men.

The statistics presented by Clare speak for themselves:

  • In 2012 women only represented 10.5% of board membership.
  • More specific to our industry, of Motor Transport’s Top 100 companies approximately 2/3 of the companies did not have a single woman on their board.
  • Clare claimed ‘Research has proven that women outperform men by 40-50%’.
  • Warehousing is not an attractive employment sector, particularly for women.
  • However, Clare pointed out how refreshing it was to see at Multi-Modal a female Fork Lift Truck driver shortlisted in a national competition, an area in which Clare predicts skills shortages in the coming years.

Clare also touched upon the impact that Brexit will have upon the warehousing sector. In the past few years’ more and more warehousing roles have been filled by eastern European migrants.

The call to action from Clare was clear - we need to encourage more women to work as warehousing operatives and dispel the myth of it being solely a male domain. Clare gave the example of Transport for London, where 23% of the workforce is female. The Apprenticeship Levy, due to be introduced in April 2017, could be a way of recruiting young people, both male and female, into the industry. Warehousing and logistics are both industries where with intelligence, willingness and commitment one can quickly work up the ranks.

Extending her inclusion argument, Clare commented on her business working with Stonewall to actively recruit amongst the LGBT community.

Clare ended her session by mentioning the Women in Logistics Group, founded by Ruth Waring in 2008 to support women in the logistics industry. Clare also urged the audience to become involved in Mentoring Projects with young people and schools to encourage school leavers to consider a career within warehousing and distribution.

The last part of the session was led by Stuart Scullion from Punter Southall. Stuart picked up where Clare left off with regards to engaging young people. Stuart believes that there is a period of change for young people and employment irrespective of the sector.

Stuart stated several recommendations that the warehousing and logistics industry could take on board with regards to the recruitment of young people:

He believes that as an industry we should be talking and engaging more with young people about warehousing and logistics . This could be through the medium of social media or even signing up on mentoring schemes to mentor and advise young people. We should be targeting areas within the industry where there are skills shortages; such as driving, and then identify what we need to do to encourage young people into these areas. As already discussed during the Amazon session, the warehousing and logistics sectors should be tapping into well-known brands and using these brands as leverage to encourage people into the industry.

Stuart believes that warehousing in particular is an almost invisible sector and the negative press surrounding Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse has been harmful to the industry. Instead we need to put a more positive spin on the innovation, the automation, the vast array of activities and opportunities within logistics and warehousing that are already going on.

With the loss of technical colleges, training has fallen back to the employer. External training is often costly and takes employees away from work; internal training can be equally as costly if there are not enough internal delegates to fill the course and can also be disruptive as there is the temptation to interrupt training should there be an issue. This point does again come back to logistics businesses working with universities and colleges to develop training and degrees that address the skills shortage and make warehousing and logistics a more attractive sector to work in.

Peter Ward concluded the session by acknowledging that UKWA does have a part to play in both building a 21st Century workforce and a 21st Century industry that people want to be a part of.