Against a backdrop of global change, UKWA – the United Kingdom Warehousing Association – is working hard to ensure its members understand where opportunities lie, says the organisation’s CEO, Peter Ward We are living in times of rapid global change, possibly unprecedented in our modern world and the current and future logistics landscape is one that will be negotiated successfully by companies able to recognise opportunity, embrace innovation and adapt in an unpredictable world.
One of the key drivers of change is the so-called ‘new consumer’, who predominantly shops online, expects to find what they want when they want it 24/7, demands free home delivery and free returns, shops ‘fresh’ in local convenience stores little and often. Big high street stores are closing as online shopping – continues to grow apace.
This change is fuelling demand for more warehousing space. However, there is a well-documented lack of suitable development land available and supply of existing warehouse units has fallen 71% since 2009.
Although UKWA has continued to highlight the imbalance of supply and demand, Savills reports only 6.5% vacancy nationwide and 3% in London, with property developers failing to react to demand, global investors taking advantage of the weaker pound and snapping up available real estate, with rental rates rising sharply.
There has been a shift of focus for new warehousing, with big operators looking north and east to be close to available labour markets, and a requirement for proximity to the national grid to meet the huge energy requirements of major fulfilment facilities.
Online retailing is also exacerbating the labour and skills shortage. At a time when the UK is experiencing the lowest youth employment rate since the 1970s and the Government remains committed to a post-Brexit cap on net migration to below 100,000, labour has become a scarce resource, particularly at peak times such as Christmas and Black Friday.
UKWA is supporting members in recruiting Apprentices and developing industry-specific training courses to up-skill workforces, fostering staff retention and improving productivity.
Could rapidly evolving technology, including robotics and automation, be a solution to the labour and skills shortage?
While there is worry robotics will take people’s jobs, the reality is that it will enhance jobs, removing repetitive elements, human error and improving job satisfaction as well as productivity.
For now full automation looks beyond the reach of all but the biggest organisations, but as cost comes down, different technologies are becoming more accessible, particularly when introduced as ‘islands of automation’, and in the end adoption will become inescapable.
As we head towards 2019, the message to the industry from UKWA is plan for the unforeseen, build in operational agility and flexibility, harness technology and above all, be prepared to adapt.