Last year’s seasonal peak prompted an unusual level of media interest in the UK logistics sector and our labour shortages. Whether it was the growth of ecommerce fuelling unprecedented demand for pick and pack workers; or the unintended consequences of Brexit leading to the loss of experienced fork-lift truck drivers – this was not just trusted trade publications like WLN. National newspapers, radio programmes and even the BBC TV News gave our industry more coverage than ever before.
Logistics has always been a labour-intensive business, so the public could be forgiven for believing warehousing is all about front-line operational jobs. And indeed, entry-level jobs are plentiful, but it would be wrong to portray them as the only option. One of the characteristics of logistics is the huge range of opportunities for career progression. For example, warehouse to wheels programmes is a proven path for warehouse workers to get into HGV driving, a field that is finally becoming the well-paid and respected profession it ought to have been all along.
The warehousing sector continues to expand, and the vacancy rates remain high in a wide range of different roles. Large teams of warehouse workers need supervision and management, but nearly half of the thousands of managers and directors working in transport and storage are due to retire by 2027, creating a growing need for leadership at all levels. The world of big data is intensifying our reliance on analysts and planners. IT systems and integration projects are becoming increasingly complex, so software engineering is essential. Buildings and handling equipment must be built and maintained. Investors and customers are driving companies towards more sustainable practices, which in turn require new skills. And of course, Brexit has irrevocably changed import and export routines, leading to a spike in demand for freight forwarding expertise; a shift that will become more significant when forthcoming legislation allows more electronic documentation.
Meanwhile, our Government predicts a huge increase in warehouse robotics, which you might expect to supress employment prospects. But the myth that robots will steal workers’ jobs has been proved to be wrong. When the 19th century textile industry was automated, the number of weavers continued to grow; when Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) became popular in the 1980s and 90s, the number of customer-facing roles in banks went up, not down. It seems more likely that automation will improve the job opportunities in warehousing. More engineers, for example, will be needed to manage the mechanical and electrical aspects of the new technologies.
All of which points to the importance of skills, training and tackling the labour crisis. Logistics is overdue a makeover, so at last our public image truly reflects the opportunities on offer.