Comments by Labour’s shadow science minister, Chi Onwurah, have been dubbed unfair and betray a lack of understanding of a sector that employs over 7% of the country’s workforce, says Chief Executive Officer of the UK Warehousing Association Clare Bottle.

“Chi Onwurah’s remark that young people should be inspired by the endless possibilities of science rather than being directed to warehouses suggests that the Shadow Minister is out of touch with the nature of modern warehousing and has failed to recognise that there are many prestigious, challenging and well-paid opportunities available in the sector,” she said.

“The image of warehouses as big sheds offering only low skilled, repetitive jobs is outdated. In fact, they are often fast-moving, high-tech environments where much of the repetitive work is automated. Accordingly, there is growing demand for IT skills in the sector and a real shortage of software engineers, for example.

Also, entry level jobs such as pickers and packers can be an engine for social mobility, providing hugely important prospects for young people from less privileged backgrounds,” Clare added. “Not everyone wants a career in science, and for those either not interested or not qualified to pursue one, ‘levelling up’ should mean the opportunity to grow and develop in employment.”

The shadow minister made her comments in response to George Freeman MP, the UK’s science minister, who was reported to have said that poor people from housing estates in cities could benefit from a strong local science base, not by becoming researchers, but by getting jobs in warehouses and volunteering for clinical trials, commenting that “not everyone is gonna be a Nobel prize-winning geneticist. But we could be getting more people into working in warehousing, working in the sector, working in well-paid jobs in this industry.”

George Freeman was speaking about economic and health disparities within cities and counties during an event titled Levelling-up the Conversation: Building a Life Sciences Superpower, which was held in Cambridge on 20 January.

Clare concluded, “We welcome George Freeman’s position on encouraging people into warehousing, where there is a critical labour shortage and tremendous opportunities for highly qualified, ambitious young people, as well as those less qualified but with the potential to grow into the roles they aspire to.

As for the Nobel Prize, well clearly few people will ever reach those heights, but respected industry accolades – including the UKWA Awards – recognise and reward excellence, while showcasing the breadth of opportunity and achievement in our sector!”

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