How to combat a skills shortage

Addressing the increasingly complicated challenge of recruitment will require innovative thinking from logistics operators.

With 43,000 vacancies in the first quarter of 2019 alone, the existence of a nationwide skills shortage for the logistics sector is now undeniable. Demand for services is going only in one direction and the sector has so far not been able to increase rates of recruitment to mitigate the problem. It is not simply a numbers problem. Technology and automation are changing the very nature of the sector, which is further complicating the skills shortage. Needless to say, logistics operators will have to harness the skills of a new generation more accustomed to this digital age of automation.

Considering the ever more complicated and increasing demand upon services relative to other professions, logistics operators need to start thinking radically in order to truly address this skills shortage. Failure to encourage fresh talent to join the logistics sector is a major part of the problem. An ageing workforce of drivers could put the longevity of the transport industry under threat. Research from the workers’ union, Unite, shows that just one per cent of HGV drivers in the UK are aged under 25, while the average age of drivers was recorded at 48 in 2016, up from 45.3 in 2001, with 13 per cent aged over 60.

Increasing exposure of the sector

“The logistics sector was never highlighted to me as a career option when I was younger and it is the same for most of the people I currently work with,” says Abby Langley, Marketing Manager at Pall-Ex. Abby insists that, while other sectors have gained in popularity, “the logistics sector has yet to promote itself effectively across higher education.” Pall-Ex is trying to address students’ lack of exposure to logistics.

Pall-Ex is an award-winning network of haulers formed in 1996 that currently transports more than 30,000 pallets across the globe every day. While Pall-Ex is firmly established within the sector, the company has met similar challenges to other parts of the logistics sector in recruiting fresh talent.

In looking to address this, Pall-Ex has partnered with De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) to try to foster enthusiasm for logistics amongst talented students. The palletised freight network has tasked second year marketing students with developing creative ideas to promote careers in the logistics sector to young people aged 16 to 24.

“It’s fantastic that one of Leicestershire’s largest companies wants to work with our students on this important marketing campaign,” says Rachael Mabe, Head of the Advertising and Promotion module at DMU. Rachael says that the university is firmly committed to the principles of the project as they will provide students with the opportunity to gain first-hand practical experience, which will enable them to develop the skills and qualities required in the workplace.

Pall-Ex has provided a live brief for an integrated marketing campaign, using market research, social media, influencer marketing and PR. Campaigns will promote HGV driving roles and other careers, encouraging applicants from under-represented groups, such as women, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities. Students are set to present their strategies to the company in March 2020.

Attracting the next generation

“Attracting the younger generation has become more challenging as they are unaware of the scope of jobs available and the opportunities for progression,” says Kevin Buchanan, Group CEO at Pall-Ex. Kevin sees this initiative as a massive learning opportunity, both for the students involved and for the company as a whole. It allows Pall-Ex to develop a fresh perspective from young people themselves and to better understand how to inform them of the increasing opportunities within the sector.

The importance of logistics to the wider UK economy should never be understated as it underpins critical infrastructure. Currently the sector is responsible for moving 1.41 billion tonnes of goods a year, according to figures from the Department for Transport. If the recruitment issues are not comprehensively addressed over the coming years, other sectors that currently rely upon effective logistics frameworks will begin to feel the effects. With industry experts warning of further skills losses as a result of Brexit, this point will become even more pertinent.

“We want logistics to be a talking point in schools,” says Kevin, reflecting on how important it is to secure the longevity for the sector. “We need to educate young people on the positives of not only driving, but other roles in the industry and the important role logistics plays in all of our lives.”