An ageing workforce and shortage of young people entering the logistics sector are combining to create an ever-expanding skills deficit. Ruth Edwards outlines the challenges and discusses what businesses can do to future-proof themselves and the wider sector

Talent in Logistics is dedicated to the recruitment, development, engagement and retention of the 2.2 million+ people working in the transport, logistics and warehousing sector. It is a sector that keeps Britain moving and contributes £120.7 billion to the UK economy every year.

Yet in a survey we conducted at the 2018 WorldSkills UK event, 42 per cent of students admitted they don’t even know what logistics is, and only 3.8 per cent had any desire to pursue a career in the sector.

As specialists in staff recruitment and development we recognise the importance of reaching out to as many potential employees as possible, for example veterans and new parents returning to work, but by far the largest untapped talent pool is to be found in schools and colleges.

Unfortunately, the education system offers very little information about the logistics industry. This is a particularly worrying problem considering the speed at which the sector is evolving.

A number of organisations are in the process of testing the validity of drone-based delivery and the US has already approved its first commercial drone delivery service. UPS is using an AI-powered GPS tool called ORION (On-road Integrated Optimisation and Navigation) to create the most efficient routes for its fleet and emerging technologies are being employed to make the sector more environmentally-friendly.

Digitalisation is making the need to focus recruitment efforts on ‘digital natives’ – millennials and generation Z – vital. This generation will bring a wealth of tech-knowledge into their chosen profession.

Encouraging more of them to opt for careers in logistics will provide a safety net for individual businesses and the sector as a whole. But with the industry seemingly suffering from a chronic image problem, how can this be achieved?

Problem of perception
The WorldSkills UK event was an eye-opener. Not only is there an alarming lack of awareness among students about logistics, but those who claimed to have knowledge of the sector were largely misinformed.

They are unaware of the diverse range of opportunities available, or the earning potential within them. They are unsure of what skills are required for logistics careers and they cite eco-friendliness, boredom and safety as concerns about the sector, as well as a lack of diversity.

Understanding these barriers is key to averting a catastrophic skills shortage. This understanding will inform the practical steps businesses can take to attract a new generation of logistics professionals.

Practical steps
The first action should be to increase your visibility with students. Look out for opportunities to appear at careers fairs and make sure you take advantage of the Baker Clause.

This states that all local authority-maintained schools and academies must give education and training providers the opportunity to talk to pupils in years 8 to 13 about approved technical qualifications and apprenticeships.

Additionally, re-evaluate the way you communicate with young people, which includes making better use of social media.

Take Instagram for example. This may not be the most obvious platform for logistics companies to use, however our survey found that a huge 66.4 per cent of respondents engage with the picture sharing site, which presents an incredible opportunity for logistics recruiters to capture millennials’ attention with engaging visual content.

In taking these positive actions it is possible to reverse the negative and misleading perceptions around the industry. However, one opinion of the sector which does unfortunately reflect reality is a lack of diversity.

Figures suggests logistics remains a male-dominated space, despite rising numbers of women in other sectors. In the UK, barely a quarter of the people working in logistics are female, according to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

Diversifying your workforce will not only help to address this imbalance, but attract young people from more talent pools. Important actions include changing cultural values and leadership behaviours, as well as highlighting the success stories of female and BAME leaders.

Improved career development as well as increased opportunities for sponsorship and mentorship, such as the CILT’s Women in Logistics, are also vital.

Cultural change
Once you have successfully recruited new staff, ensure you are prepared to retain them. Create a culture of employee engagement and inclusivity, and consider what young people are looking for in an employer.

What is going to attract them? Flexible working, corporate social responsibility, employee engagement, variety of work, innovation and the opportunity to progress are all areas that may require attention.

Finally, ensure you have a learning and development strategy in place. This is a framework that facilitates an organisation’s development of its workforce’s capabilities, skills and competencies.

A learning and development strategy is vital in driving your business forward. Employees who feel that their development and progression are valued are more likely to be loyal and committed to the company, while their increased level of ability will provide continued results for employers.

Stop whispering, start shouting
Logistics is undeniably one of the most important career fields in the world and the impact of a skills shortage in the future cannot be underestimated. Only by addressing the sector’s image problem can logistics avoid grinding to a halt.

If the sector is to thrive rather than simply survive, we must ensure the range of opportunities available to young people is more widely known and that myths surrounding the industry are dispelled.

In a sector that works quietly behind the scenes to keep the country going, it’s time to start shouting about what we do.

Ruth Edwards is Business Manager at Talent in Logistics. Talent in Logistics is dedicated to the recruitment, development, engagement and retention of the 2.2 million+ people working in the transport, logistics and warehousing sector. Talent in Logistics was specifically developed to support these employers and aims to encourage organisations to address skills, training and career progression to retain exceptional staff and attract new employees.