Raising the bar

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This year will see some of the logisitcs industry’s top managers vie for the same positions.  The goood news is – companies will be spoilt for choice.  Jessica Davies takes a closer look at the market

Availability of good quality managers is steadily rising as a result of companies being forced to downsize. But what may be bad news for the individual may be good news for employers, as a business can only flourish from taking on more highly skilled and experienced warehouse managers.

It’s been said that third party logistics companies could do well in spite of a downturn, as some companies choose to outsource more so as to focus on their core business. Certainly the largest logistics players such as Wincanton continue to expand fast, and will look to take on extra people to support this growth.

Mike Lynn-Jones, group organisation development director at Wincanton, says the company traditionally takes on 200 to 300 managers each year in line with growth and is confident “this is not likely to change”. He admits there has been a noticeable change in the environment in the last six months, but says “it hasn’t impacted us”.

This bodes well in a time when the supply of managerial candidates seems to be outstripping the demand for them. Vacancies are dwindling and recruitment consultancies are witnessing a surge in the volume of applications.

Avi Mann, operations director, MVP Supply Chain Recruitment, points to a live example of a warehouse management role. “This time last year [2007] we would have seen 60 to 70 applications, 20 per cent of which would have been relevant, and we would have shortlisted four to five of the most exceptional candidates. Now, for the same position, we’ve seen 340 applications, 40 to 50 per cent of which are relevant, and could shortlist as many as 20.”

Those already employed by the most dominant logistics companies will be in a prime position. Many of the larger third party logistics providers have strong internal development structures, and are therefore likely to turn to their own before recruiting externally. Lynn-Jones says Wincanton has traditionally preferred to recruit internally. “Eight out of ten of our management positions are filled internally,” he says.

Steve Kaim-Caudle, director of Momentum Logistics Recruitment, says: “Third party logistics providers are getting smarter at finding people internally.” He reckons some may even be under pressure to source internally from clients who are on open-book contracts, as a way to cut costs.

The retail market has been struck hard by the downturn and those that haven’t already started consolidating their distribution centres may be looking to do so this year. Some may choose to shut them down entirely in a move to cut costs. Mann reckons this will have a knock-on effect for warehouse shift managers, with a lot of the late night shifts being cut first, as they are more costly than day shifts.

However, it’s not just that there are going to be more quality candidates – they’re going to be more flexible too. Employers will now have access to highly skilled people for less money.

More qualified applicants will be willing to take on jobs which offer a lower salary than what they are used to. “Employers will be spoilt for candidates,” says Mann, “they will be able to cherry pick people at reduced salaries.”

Kaim-Caudle says that people who have been made redundant, including those formerly in senior roles, are applying for roles that pay “a good £15K less than their previous jobs”. He says a lot of them are “keen for a change” and therefore happy to try new roles even if they are less well paid. “The more far-sighted companies may take advantage of this.”

“Candidates are getting very frustrated with the increased competition,” says Mann. “Where they used to be able to pick and choose, they are now having to become more flexible, and open to shift work.”

There’s a strong consensus that the standard skills required for a warehouse manager role will remain unchanged. But Kaim-Caudle reckons leadership and people management skills will be “doubly important” this year.

Commercial acumen

Lynn-Jones stresses the importance of managers having strong financial and commercial acumen. “There’s no doubt there’s a lot more talent available.” This means it will fall to the employer to ensure their recruitment process is efficient. Lynn-Jones reckons companies will need to ensure their candidate assessments are “robust”. He says: “From a talent point of view, they must be picked not just for the current role, but for future roles.”

The distribution market has opened up in the past few years, but with more and more companies being forced to downsize, it may be that the surplus of talent will flock to the welcoming arms of the largest logistics players who can still afford to recruit.

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