The UK's domestic logistics market is among the most efficient and effective in the world and without the services it provides the country would soon come to a standstill. And yet, all too few talented people are pursuing careers in logistics and, as a result, the industry is facing a skills shortage that, if unchecked, could represent a real threat to the sector's future development.
That was the message from John Maguire, National Chairman of the United Kingdom Warehousing Association (UKWA) in his address to UKWA members at the Association's Annual General Meeting, held recently at the Dorchester Hotel, London.
He commented: "Any industry can only be as good as the talent that it manages to attract, develop and retain but the logistics industry's skills base is increasingly viewed an issue for the industry.
"The sector needs to recruit 900,000 individuals leading up to 2020 but nearly a fifth of vacancies in the transport and storage sector are classified as 'hard to fill' because of the lack of applicants with the required skills.
"In addition to 'soft skills' such as customer handling and communication, it is job specific skills that are most commonly lacking. Such skills are increasingly important in a sector facing change driven by technology and globalisation.
"As businesses prepare for the economic upturn, they will need skilled people in order to respond to demand but, if it is not addressed, the current and on-going skills gap will result in increased operating costs and reduced competitiveness across the sector."
"The logistics industry needs to agree a course of action which will lead to a more focused and unified approach to the fundamental issue of training and developing our workforce in a consistent and progressive way.
"But, at present, we do not have the cohesion in the sector to achieve this. Our larger companies have difficulty putting aside their competitive caps when addressing key industry issues. There are also historical, cultural and commercial barriers between some of our larger trade associations, which prevent a unified approach on these issues. But the industry must do better than it is."
John Maguire is sales director of articulated forklift truck manufacturer, Flexi Narrow Aisle Ltd. He was appointed chairman of UKWA in 2011 - the first representative from a company whose core-business is not third party logistics, to take up the position.
Founded in 1944, UKWA has over 600 members providing storage and third party logistics services, and represents the industry to both commerce and government.