Tuesday 27th Sep 2016 - Logistics Manager

Six years to make logistics popular

By 2017 the UK logistics sector will need 843,600 new employees.

Regular readers of this column have little doubt about the importance of logistics to the UK economy but then as subscribers to this august journal you are, by definition, the converted.

We know that the sector underpins all parts of UK plc, we know that it employs 2.3 million people and that means that one in 12 people who work in the UK work in logistics. We also know that only nine per cent of that 2.3 million is under 25 while getting on for half is over 45. However, did you also know that as a result, projections show that by 2017 the UK logistics sector will need 843,600 new employees.

The year 2017 once appeared a long way off but it’s only six years or one and a half Olympics. By the time the World Cup after next comes along there will need to be almost a million people working in the sector who currently are not.

In 2011 at the beginning of that six-year defining period, we face challenges that need to be addressed including:

  • Nearly half (48 per cent) of the hard-to-fill logistics vacancies are caused by an acute shortage of applicants with required skills (compared to 39 per cent for all sectors).
  • 72 per cent of employers report difficult to obtain applicant skills include technical, practical and job-specific skills (63 per cent for all sectors).
  • Logistics employers also report a more severe shortage in the skills of numeracy, office admin, team working, customer handling and management than in other sectors.
  • Only 14 per cent of logistics employers recruited a young person leaving education to their first job (all sectors = 23 per cent). The term ‘logistics’ is ambiguous and misunderstood by two thirds of school children (14-19 year olds).
  • Employers believe public perception of the logistics sector is poor. Training providers, further and higher education colleges, trade unions and job agencies all report the sector is not marketed effectively to the public.

Te last of these is an interesting point and something we have deliberated on previously. We do not appear to be a “go-to” sector for careers for young people. Yet, we are one of the pivotal business functions that allow this country to operate a truly global business function.

This poor image could be said to be exacerbated by another the bad press given to vocational training, especially when compared to the “route of choice” a university education.

I forecast that that particular sacred cow will be slayed over the coming years as a result of the university fees policy and, more directly as a result of most universities’ decision to charge fees towards the top end. This could well result in a fundamental repositioning of the current order as vocational routes become more attractive to both learners and importantly employers.

We are talking to a number of employers about designing vocational routes to senior management which will take people from school and provide them with the training and development needed to climb the professional development stairway. This will look at higher level apprenticeships and foundation degrees as well as employer-sponsored degrees.

The esteem of vocational skills is something that BIS is looking to raise, and John Hayes MP, the skills minister in particular is attracted to some sort of modern expression of the ancient “guild” idea.

The DfT on the other hand is increasingly recognising through discussions with employers, the importance of skills and the detrimental effect a poor industry image will have on us being able to handle the demographic time-bomb awaiting us between now and 2017.

That’s enough of the negativity we could have the conditions for a perfect storm arising here. We have a vocational training system which is held in poor esteem but which, courtesy of the university fees policy could well become more attractive over the coming years. If we can combine that with similar work to improve esteem of the 2.3 million people working in logistics and make that a career of choice, we could be on to a winner.

Skills for Logistics has been commissioned to investigate what can be done in our sector to raise the esteem of skills, support those who are in training, and attract new entrants into our sector; so that come 2017, the UK logistics sector can overcome whatever challenge the world economy throws at us. Our work has thus far seen us engage with over 100 employers and specialists, and hold two high level focus groups. My intelligence team is now bringing together the research findings. If you want to make a contribution, time is short, but we’d welcome your thoughts. In my next column I’ll tell you what we found.

It clearly won’t happen overnight but we must do something if we are to attract the people we need over the next six years and beyond.