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Invest in training to beat the skills shortage

17 June 2019

Mentor FLT Training managing director Stuart Taylor looks at the skills crisis facing the warehousing industry today and explains how, by investing in training, employers can not only minimise its impact on operations, but reap some significant benefits.

For years, experts have warned of the issue of aging baby boomers, but – with less than 18 years until the last retires – the impact of their departure from our workforce grows clearer by the day.

A problem compounded

It’s expected that – in less than four years – there will be 700,000 fewer people between the ages of 16 and 49 in the UK. That’s a sharp contrast to the 3.7 million additional people who will be aged between 50 and pensionable age.

This shift suggests that competition for labour is set to intensify, as employers fight to secure suitable candidates from a shrinking pool.

When you consider that our workforce is heavily reliant on contingent staff, a large proportion of which are foreign workers (see graph), it’s highly likely that BREXIT and the government drive to cut immigration will further compound this issue – something suggested by the British Safety Council’s Future Risk report. 

And the BSC’s findings have been echoed elsewhere. The FTA’s Skills Shortage Report highlighted the risk of forklift operator shortages in the UK logistics sector in the future, given the downturn that has already begun in the number of EU nationals in these occupations.

It’s important to heed the warnings sooner rather than later… and for employers, training is key to overcoming this clearly untenable situation, by achieving two things. It will help you address the skills shortage. But, more than that, it delivers a big return on investment for your business, too.

Training as an investment, not a cost

It’s easy to view training as simply a cost or even a ‘tick box’ exercise. However, nurturing and developing your workforce’s skills is an investment in your business’ future success.  

Not only will it help you upskill existing staff to fill the void in the short term - if given sufficient opportunities for engagement with safety, it will also help you retain them in the long run by showing them they are valued members of your team, who you believe are capable of making a real contribution.

And the benefits for your business don’t stop there, because study after study shows that the safest operations are the most productive and, in turn, the most efficient and profitable. 

So how do you ensure your existing staff (and anyone you are able to recruit), is equipped with the required skills and knowledge to keep your business from feeling the effects of a skilled labour shortage?

Training for operators (and pedestrians)

Developing the skills of your operators (or their colleagues on foot, for that matter) enables them to become safer, more efficient members of your team and make a better contribution to your bottom line.

First and foremost, training gets staff working to the required standards. Thankfully, the basic skills and knowledge vital for operating potentially dangerous MHE are now widely accepted as necessary. 

But it shouldn’t end there. By comparison, few employers provide all three essential elements required under the L117: Approved Code of Practice, meaning job-specific and familiarisation training are often overlooked. 

Train to gain

Retain talent and experience while saving on recruitment and lost time to induct/train new starters

Boost productivity by getting the job done correctly and avoiding multiple attempts, errors and accidents 

Reduce disruptions associated with poor practice, including clean up, repairs, aisle shutdowns, trucks/personnel out of action

Reduce damage associated with accidents, including to stock, trucks, fixtures/fittings and pallets

Avoid hefty fines and fees associated with the latest sentencing guidelines, such as proportional fines, court costs and compensation.  

And that’s not accounting for the biggest, most important cost of poor practice – that is the lives and limbs of your staff. 

Yet, by delivering them, you can significantly limit risk, while boosting your productivity. And, providing these skills are regularly refreshed, you’ll also ensure you’re meeting your legal requirements for training.

Add awareness training for those who work in close proximity to MHE, and you’ll ensure their colleagues can recognise potentially dangerous situations too, and, crucially, how to avoid them.

Training also engages staff on the subject of safety, which pays dividends in ensuring long-term success as the most effective safety measures are created in partnership with those following them. By understanding the hazards (and their consequences), staff are more likely to be proactive and take ownership of the day-to-day safety of themselves and their colleagues - especially if their managers are helping to lead a company-wide safety culture. 

Training for managers and supervisors

Upskilling those working on and around MHE is only effective if what they’ve learned is monitored and reinforced by managerial and supervisory staff to ensure it sticks - and this requires its own skill set.

Developing your managers’ skills makes them better equipped to meet their responsibilities and act as a conduit between the wider workforce and senior management – ultimately, making them more valuable to your business. 

Training provides them with a practical understanding of operations and this knowledge is more important now than ever before. While years ago you might expect a manager to work up through the ranks from the shop floor, you’re more likely to see those roles occupied by new graduates… often with little or no operational experience of MHE. 

Forklift-specific knowledge is not common sense. It’s a learned skill which must be taught to enable those overseeing operations to do their jobs effectively and identify complacency and unsafe practice. 

Did you know… 

Each year approximately 1300 workers in the UK are hospitalised with serious injuries as a result of a lift truck accident

More than half of those injured are on foot at the time of impact.  

The role of managers and supervisors has also changed in recent years – with today’s managers increasingly likely to have KPIs to consider, and with them, the associated targets, reports, and audits to manage. These additional responsibilities leave them less time to spend ‘walking the floor’, making them less hands-on than their predecessors. 

But a good training provision will remind busy managers that safety is a vital part of their role, offering perspective by highlighting the consequences of unsafe practice.

Armed with this specialist knowledge and an understanding of their responsibility to reduce risk, they’ll gain the confidence to challenge bad practice, giving them increased motivation to be proactive and make a real difference on your site. 

What’s more, your investment in your staff’s CPD makes them feel more valued, giving the career-minded an incentive to commit to their role and progress. In the near future when companies are competing for talent, these kinds of prospects may be the difference between losing and attracting potential employees.

Futureproof your business

The future availability of the talent pool means there will be increased competition to attract employees at, seemingly, every corner: whether you’re looking to expand or simply replace exiting employees.

Through upskilling, you can beat the labour shortage while making your staff feel safe and valued, and with the right engagement you’ll inspire loyalty and boost morale, too, which is great for productivity. 

And once you’ve created a team of safe, productive, committed workers, you are sure to retain them, keeping bosses happy and business booming.