Sunday 23rd Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

Pick face- or pit face

The logistics industry is more focused on nurturing talent than ever…

The world’s leading online retailer has come in for some flak. Having been in the firing line over its tax arrangements, several newspapers recently trained their sights on Amazon’s work practices.

An article in the “FT” juxtaposed the experiences of working in Amazon’s high intensity distribution centre in Rugeley with nostalgia for the colliery, around which the Staffordshire town was developed. Could there be anything more symbolic of how times have changed?

Fulfilling online retail orders from an enormous inventory comprising the broadest possible product portfolio, is, mostly, a manual rather than automated practice. Staff working in e-fulfilment need to be geared to delivering large numbers of small orders to the doorstep of the general public both rapidly and accurately.

This involves differing skill sets to those working in traditional DCs tasked with replenishing stores with pallets and cases and e-fulfilment operations are actually loathe to lose them. This is why many operators actively pursue staff retention by developing their talent pools.

These pools are not only permanent staff but agency too. Temporary staff are essential for managing the enormous peak that occurs in online retail around Christmas. Maintaining high service levels during this period when volumes can increase tenfold may require trebling non-peak staff levels.

Clearly the nature of the business means that their services cannot be sustained during non-peak. However, fulfilment operations will train agency staff to get them up to picking speed quickly and will look to their temps as obvious candidates to fill any permanent roles when they become available.

The British are the world’s biggest online shoppers, which has led to the UK developing the most efficient e-commerce operations. It is reasonable therefore to expect that growing numbers of people working in warehouses and logistics will be fulfilling online orders.  In addition to driving retail, the online shopping revolution is raising the profile of logistics and it is important to encourage the view that working in an e-fulfilment centre, or warehouse, is a job with an opportunity to start a solid career in the logistics industry.

I feel sure that, given the choice between working in a modern e-fulfilment centre or a coal mine, most young people would chose the former, especially if given a clear view of the opportunities open to them. If you get a job in a mine and work your way to the top you’d still only be at ground level, goes the joke. That may or may not be true but working in a warehouse has led many into management roles and numerous supply chain and logistics directors will talk proudly of how they started out order picking.  Those starting in the warehouse today will find a logistics sector that is more focused on nurturing talent than ever. The Personal Development Stairway, for example, sets out a clear route for progression in our sector and shows what qualifications are needed and what training is available.

For those seeking apprenticeship opportunities the good news is that companies which are interested in taking on apprentices in their warehouse, or other areas of logistics, but want to understand the bottom-line benefits that skills can generate, now have access to a Skills Calculator.  This web tool, designed by Skills for Logistics, will calculate items such as Return on Training Investment percentages for employers and annual salary estimates for individuals. It will also act as a useful knowledge tool for training providers, learners, recruiters and HR managers associated with the sector, to engage with and encourage key stakeholders to increase the uptake of skills development and recruitment for the entire UK logistics workforce.
Of course it is unlikely that organisations today will go to the extent of building housing estates for their workers as, the FT article relates, the coal board and local council did in Rugeley.

However, the logistics sector is building a sense of community. Local Logistics Community Networks are being established to allow companies to connect with local people and institutions – particularly schools, training providers, colleges and universities. They can produce a sustainable pool of talent by focusing on local issues.

Meanwhile, the Logistics Guild is creating a professional community. After all, our sector is a family of some 2.4 million people, all working in the same industry. We should be getting together to share ideas, offer support, guidance, career and skills development. In so doing we can create a fraternity that will give guild members a career-long network for their personal development.

All of this is good and encouraging news for anybody working in an e-fulfilment centre or warehouse and demonstrates not only how people can work well in the logistics sector, but how the logistics sector can work well for people.