Friday 28th Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

The star turn: Diversity

The gender imbalance is clear and the industry is missing out on talent.

Any industry that fails to recruit from all sectors of society, and thus the widest possible pool of talent, will clearly constrain itself in terms of finding sufficient numbers of talented employees. For many industries the issue is most apparent in the gender imbalance in the workplace, which is often discussed in terms of equal representation in the boardroom.

In logistics, however, there are broader and more critical areas where this imbalance contributes significant risk to the UK economy. The overall figure for women working in the sector is something like 23 per cent, compared with an all sector average of 45 per cent – so it’s lamentably low in an industry that is seeking talented recruits.

There are still some supply chains where the warehouse operations are heavy and onerous, but not all by any means. You will often find that where there are either split-shifts or short-shifts in warehouses, particularly if it is a 6pm – 10pm or a 6pm – 2am shift, you will find that is quite a popular shift for the primary child carer – because their partner may well work during the day.

Companies are installing simple operational solutions, such as a step attached to order picking locations to ensure that reaching higher picking locations over conveyors will be as ergonomic for shorter female staff as it might be for a taller male colleague.

The picture when you get into the transport side shows an even greater imbalance. Just one per cent of LGV drivers and five per cent of van drivers are female.

These days, many more driving jobs are 4 hours from a single site or from an RDC to local stores. With modern gearboxes, new trucks are much more friendly vehicles to drive; and there are fewer jobs that involve leaving on a Monday and coming home on a Friday night so there is as much flexibility in driving jobs these days as within the warehouse.

Many of the jobs that traditionally recruited large numbers of women are no longer in existence in the UK.  Women are taking the initiative to build careers in what have been seen previously as male bastions. The recent Channel 4 documentary, MotherTruckers, suggested this may be happening for lorry drivers.

Given that many supply chain directors started as drivers or warehouse operatives, the hope is that by recruiting more women into the industry as drivers then, in addition to helping to fill the driver gap that currently exists, the logistics industry as a whole will benefit from a wider pool of talent. Look around any director level logistics or supply chain conference and the current gender imbalance in the industry is clear and the industry is missing out on that talent.

A greater need to create a more diverse workforce for logistics is also evident in the figures for logistics workers from ethnic minorities, which are also low. In England, individuals from a Black, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background make up four per cent of the workforce.

Of the 73,500 storage and warehouse managers 14 per cent are female and 4 per cent are from a BAME background. Just 13 per cent of warehouse assistants in the UK are female, while eight per cent are from a BAME background.

The logistics sector offers real, full time jobs with opportunities; the key is to make it a more attractive sector, to both men and women. One way to do this is to show a clear career path from the lorry driver’s seat to the possibility of a seat at the boardroom table, such as the Professional Development Stairway, created by Skills for Logistics.

Women and minorities need to have a new perception of the logistics sector and employers need to address issues that may constrain their opportunities. There is also work to be done to overturn perceptions related to other talent pools. For example, skilled labour exists within the Armed Forces but does not or cannot transfer effectively into civilian job roles.

As discussed in a recent column, service leavers are finding that not only do they need to translate their military experience into civvy-street but they must also convince a civilian company to employ them. This is this market failure that Skills for Logistics (SfL) is seeking to address having been recently awarded £1.14 million, under the third phase of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills’ Employer Investment Fund (EIF3), to deliver the Military Transitions to Logistics programme to help up to 1,000 men and women leaving the armed forces cross the bridge into civilian life.

The logistics sector has a requirement for skilled labour, particularly to fill acute driver shortages we must ensure that we are reaching into every talent pool available and recruiting the best people from all sections of society.