The logistics industry must do more to attract top talent if it is to capitalise on the ways in which global supply chains are being reshaped by the online retail revolution, says Mark Elward, managing director of DK Fulfilment.
Following June's Brexit referendum, one of the greatest concerns for employers in the logistics sector is how to fill warehouse staff vacancies if, or when, the changes to freedom of movement that the UK electorate voted for are implemented.
At present, over two million EU citizens live and work in Britain. Many of them help to alleviate skills shortages in areas such as IT and engineering while others undertake much of the lower-paid work in the UK jobs market.
British logistics businesses must be able to get the people they need to fill the jobs available and it is important that the logistics industry works with the Government to ensure that any future system introduced to allow foreign workers to be employed does not lead to a hike in hiring costs and a plethora of red tape.
It has been estimated that currently some 10 – 15 per cent of the permanent warehouse staff working in the supply chain sector are non-UK nationals and, at peak times, when temporary employees augment the workforce, as many as 20 per cent of the UK logistics industry's picking and packing staff are said to be from overseas.
From conversations that I've had and other anecdotal evidence, it's clear that staff agencies are anxious about the impact that Brexit will have on access to full-time and temporary workers.
Given that the logistics industry is already faced with skills shortages in key areas, this has to be an area of concern for companies operating in the sector – and, indeed, the users of 3PL services.
The cost of hiring and training an entirely indigenous workforce would inevitably lead some logistics service providers to raise their fees to cover the increase in wages that they will be forced to pay in an effort to attract and retain the best staff should access to European workers be denied them.
But, long before anyone had even heard the word 'Brexit', the logistics industry has struggled to attract the top talent from all corners of society and there is no doubt in my mind that the sector is being held back by its image as an industry that, at management level, is dominated by white, middle-aged, conservative (with a small 'c') men.
For example, a recent survey undertaken by a leading trade journal in the industry showed that only one of the country's Top 100 logistics firms has three or more women serving on its main board. The same research revealed that women are entirely absent from the boardrooms of the overwhelming majority of the UK's leading 3PLs. Every company in the FTSE 100 has a woman on its board.
And graduates and our brightest school leavers are rarely encouraged to choose logistics as a career path after completing their studies. This is, in part, a consequence of the supply chain industry's relationship with the nation's Universities and other educational establishments which has not been good for many years. However, with technological advances driving demand for a more academic workforce across all sectors, the way that logistics companies interact with the education system has to improve if we are to recruit the calibre of future employees we need.
Sadly, the recent widespread media coverage of the allegations of poor workplace practice at some high profile retailers' distribution centres and recent stories of warehouse staff receiving less than the minimum wage is only likely to exacerbate the problem by making logistics firms appear unattractive employers.
Many people who read the negative coverage that the sector has been getting will doubtless see logistics as a low-skilled industry associated with hard, poorly-paid work, when, in truth, the reality is quite the opposite.
It is vital that every company operating in the sector strives to promote this positive message. Failing to do so risks the industry's ability to capitalise on the opportunities presented by the ways in which global supply chains are being reshaped to keep pace with the online retail revolution and the seismic shift in the way today's consumer buys and sells everything from soap powder to jet engines.