Tuesday 25th Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

Mind the skills gap

It’s time for the UK to drop down the youth unemployment league table

Perhaps the greatest tragedy amid Europe’s ongoing economic turbulence is the frightening level of youth unemployment in Spain and Greece. In both countries over half of the under 25 year olds are not in work.

Yet a report published by The Work Foundation at the end of January, called: “International Lessons: Youth unemployment in the global context”, revealed that the UK comes third behind Greece and Spain in terms of youth joblessness in the OECD, with a youth unemployment rate 50 per cent above the OECD average. It adds that with 1.02m jobless 16 to 24-year-olds, or 21.9 per cent of the workforce in that age group, the UK has experienced the fastest rise in youth unemployment of any country in the G8 since the start of the recession.

Set this against the fact that nearly a fifth of vacancies in the transport and storage sector are classified as hard to fill because of the lack of applicants with required skills. This latter stat is a finding from the recently released UK Commission for Employment and Skills Report (October 2012 Transport and Storage: Sector Skills Assessment 2012). It goes on to report that it is job specific skills that are most commonly lacking, in addition to “soft skills” such as customer handling and communication. These types of skills are increasingly important in a sector facing change driven by technology, globalisation and a shift towards new practices such as omni-channel retailing.

Although, as the UKCES report finds, the majority of employers are attempting to overcome these skills gaps through increasing training, it is the failure to provide appropriate training that is reported to contribute to over a quarter of the skills gaps. This is exacerbated when, as the study shows, the total number of jobs in the Transport and Storage sector is forecast to grow by 95,000 between 2010 and 2020, in addition to a replacement demand of 553,000. This means that 647,000 job openings are expected in the period across all occupational groups.

Clearly then, it is imperative to supply the right skills that effectively meet the changing needs and requirements of the sector’s labour market. Attracting young people into logistics through apprenticeships is a great opportunity. The Work Foundation report suggests that the UK can learn from Germany, where youth unemployment is a relatively low 8.5 per cent, in terms of its use of apprenticeships to facilitate transitions between school and work. Appropriately, the positive impacts that apprenticeships are having on individuals, businesses and the economy in the UK are being celebrated this month during the sixth National Apprenticeship Week on the 11-15 March. In the logistics sector, high quality and success of logistics job and employer focused apprenticeship schemes are a vital components for bridging the skills gap.

Over 25,000 successful apprentices have gone on to add value to the UK economy to the tune of £500m a year between them, by bringing their employers the efficiency benefits of employees with up to date and relevant skills. The UKCES report finds that since 2007/8 there has been a year on year increase in warehouse operatives achieving apprenticeships and in the numbers completing Carry and Deliver Goods and Driving Goods Vehicles apprenticeships.

Creating apprenticeships in close partnership with employers in the logistics industry ensures that they are built around the high demand for the right kind of skills in the sector and offer a key means for delivering individuals with the capabilities demanded by the logistics industry.

For example, the first Higher Level Apprenticeship designed specifically to meet the needs of time-sensitive supply chain operations was launched recently in response to employer demand. This Express Logistics Higher Level Apprenticeship has been designed to produce the next generation of operations managers. Apprentices will develop the knowledge and skills that will enable them to contribute fully to the operation and development of time-sensitive supply chain businesses. Higher apprenticeships offer a valuable alternative opportunity for vocational training for many young people, particularly those discouraged from attending university by high tuition fees.

Apprenticeships sit alongside the other schemes underway in the logistics sector but we clearly have to work on ways of getting people into apprenticeships in the first place. The Work Foundation report also goes on to examine good practice in other countries, notably Germany and the Netherlands, and the UK would do well to follow some of those examples. SfL are working with a number of employers to look at traineeships or pre-employment programmes that will help bridge young people into the sector.

With schemes such as these, the UK logistics Industry can help reduce youth unemployment as well as filling the skills gap. Watch this space…