As the economy begins to recover with the lifting of lockdown and the UK settles into its new independent status from the European Union, much has changed in our industry. The concept of seasonality seems all but over in the new e-commerce driven world and with it, hopefully, the over dependency on transient agency staff.

Currently, the logistics and warehousing sector is enjoying unprecedented positive profile following the global pandemic, so surely now is the time to address the long-standing issue of labour and skills shortages, and promote the clear career opportunities in this vibrant and increasingly technology centred industry.

While the advance of automation is inevitable, given expectations for multichannel management and next or same day delivery, people nevertheless remain a business’s most valuable asset. Far from replacing human workers, collaborative robots or cobots, for example, help pick items or transport goods across the warehouse, complementing human capabilities and relieving them of strenuous or repetitive tasks. Accordingly, investment in recruiting and retaining the best workforce is at least as important as investment in new technology.

UKWA members are increasingly seeking locations for their warehouses that are close to labour pools, as well as to consumers, while the pain of the pandemic has brought fresh recognition that staff loyalty and commitment is central to successful and sustainable operations. Those businesses operating throughout lockdown have been required, rightly, to prioritise the safety of their workforce, and have implemented Covid-secure measures, often at considerable cost.

We must continue this journey, professionalising our industry with a clear commitment to creating skilled workforces. Employee retention is strongly influenced by opportunities for training and advancement, as well as flexible working patterns and a decent income. This is why UKWA has developed a series of industry specific CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence) courses, designed to upskill employees and support career development, from introduction to warehousing though to warehouse supervisor and warehouse manager qualifications.

UKWA has also embraced the Government’s Kickstart Scheme, which provides funding to employers to create jobs for 16 to 24 year olds and we have long been keen supporters of Apprenticeships, but there is still more to be done. As our industry changes and different skills are required, we will need to ensure that appropriate training opportunities are on offer and encourage employee engagement.

Post-Brexit limits on immigration have combined with major changes in employment law to drive significant changes in employment and recruitment practices for the future. So, the message from UKWA is that long-term business resilience rests on understanding your responsibilities to your people, and investing in best-in-class training and education, designed to develop, motivate and retain a skilled, professional and high performing workforce fit for the future.

Peter Ward

UKWA, CEO

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