Learning to prepare for uncertain times
21 March 2022
UKWA National Conference delegates urged to ‘be curious, be imaginative, and be bold’.
DELEGATES AT this year’s UKWA National Conference, held on March 8, heard from a series of high profile speakers offering advice, insights and inspiration on the theme of Building Tomorrow’s Workforce Today.
The conference, which opened with a poll revealing that 72% of delegates thought global political uncertainty was the biggest threat to business, was told to ‘be curious, explore and prepare for uncertainties’, by keynote speaker Eleanor Winton. She said it was more important than ever to learn faster and govern smarter as technology accelerates.
Eleanor asked delegates whether they had a clear vision for where their business should be in 2030 and advised for those who don’t, “At this unique moment of public recognition for this industry, use this conference to network, learn, consider, create your vision and exercise your license to innovate.”
Young people want to be part of an industry that matches their values
A key theme on the first day was how to attract more talent into the industry. Bethany Windsor of Think Logistics and Novus underlined the importance of education as a route into the sector and introduced young graduates Tienne Oates, Eismantas Sungaila and Sunnah Habib, all of whom spoke with confidence and passion about their respective roles and experiences in warehousing and logistics. All confirmed that what they looked for in an employer were training and personal development, but vitally also ethical values on the environment and a culture that ‘matches who I am and what I want to be as a person.’
Bethany asked delegates to get behind promoting opportunities in the industry in schools and colleges. “Young people can’t be what they can’t see!” she said.
Co-founders of the charity Tempus Novo, Steve Freer and Val Wawrosz, explained how they are ‘changing the world, one life at a time’, rehabilitating ex-offenders by finding them work, whilst also opening up for employers a new pool of talented people who, given a second chance, were determined to demonstrate that they could be reliable, hard-working and loyal. Both spoke of their work with UKWA member Clipper Logistics and introduced Chris, a former Tempus Novo client, now a Team Leader at Clipper.
Tempus Novo drives diversity and delivers 74% retention rates
“We’ve been blown away by warehousing as an opportunity for employment for our clients,” Steve said. “It’s exciting, busy and offers our clients entry level access to jobs as well as a route for personal progression. We’re now working with many logistics companies – we focus on making it easy for employers. Safeguarding is a high priority and job retention rates are 74%.”
The clear message from both Ruth Edwards, Operations Director at Talent in Logistics and James Terry, Vice President of Sales at Indeed Flex, was that employers in the warehousing and logistics sector are in a highly competitive marketplace and can no longer view workers simply as commodities. Instead, they argued, what staff want from their employment should shape future recruitment and retention strategies.
Workers are consumers too: choice and control will be key to future recruitment strategy
According to James, there has been an 143% increase in warehouse job postings on the platform since before the pandemic, with 81% of companies struggling to attract staff.
While Indeed Flex have seen a 28% rise in salaries, the picture is complex, he said.
A UKMHA research survey commissioned by Ruth for the Conference, confirmed the point, revealing that warehouse workers value trustworthy management and a better work/life balance more than a 5% pay rise.
Delegates were reminded that workers are consumers too, and online retailers have taught them to expect and exercise choice and control. As part of a high powered big brand Logistics Users panel, with Nestlé, Reckitt, Fitflop, British Airways and Coca-Cola, Amy McNamara, Head of Operations, shared that Boohoo is extending its ordering window to midnight for next-day delivery and is looking at introducing same-day to meet consumer demand. These consumers have come to expect the same control and choice over where and when to work.
Jon Sleeman Director of UK Industrial & Logistics Research at JLL said that human-centric warehouse design was very much to the fore, while Jon Kirby, Commercial Director of Secure Business Solutions, told delegates that Iron Mountain’s new warehouses were being built with the comfort and convenience of workers in mind – from creches to 5-a-side football pitches.
Will robots take over the warehouse?
Day two focused on automation, robotics and change management. Expert panelists from Locus Robotics, Wise Robotics, BotsAndUs, Geek+ and Omron agreed that robots were NOT about to take over the warehouse anytime soon.
According to Paul Cusack of Omron Industrial Automation Europe, “The fear of being replaced by robots is misplaced, robots will take away mundane work and free people to do more interesting jobs. It is our responsibility to change that perception.”
Delegates were surprised to hear that ROI for most automation and robotics projects, depending on size and scale, has come down to less than 2 years, particularly if robots are rented to manage peaks, rather than bought.
RaaS (Robotics as a Service), it seems, has helped SMEs to get involved with robotics, as entry level costs are much lower.
Simon Houghton of Geek+ recommended that those 42% of delegates not yet engaged with robotics but thinking of adopting them over the next three years should start small but start early, as many competitors will already be doing so (11% of delegates had already adopted).
“Robots are not about saving ‘heads’ but are able to cover those ‘heads’ you can’t recruit!” he said.
In the final session, which discussed how to futureproof business in a volatile environment, Nulogy Managing Director Josephine Coombes advocated “Leveraging technology to improve efficiency and unleash the potential of people. The biggest barrier to change is resistance to change,” she said. “Configuring software is the easy bit, changing mindset is the tough piece.”
Adam Jones, Chief Commercial Officer at Carlton Forest Group agreed, telling delegates that in the last twelve months the 3PL has doubled its revenue and profit, while almost tripling its warehouse footprint - from 500,000 sq ft of warehousing space to over 1.4million sq ft. He emphasised the importance of empowering people to lead and drive change, and in a spirit of collaboration invited other UKWA members planning change to visit Carlton Forest, to pool knowledge and share ideas.
Voting on the biggest challenge to implementing change, 64% of delegates cited management time, 22% said skills, while just 10% thought investment was the main hurdle.
Commenting on the event, UKWA CEO Clare Bottle concluded: “This extremely popular UKWA event was sold out this year. It was clear that members were keen to meet and network on a face to face basis again after the long months of lockdown, and the themes we addressed – recruitment and retention, robotics and automation, putting people at the heart of our plans for the future – resonated with delegates. We were fortunate to have some fantastic, incredibly knowledgeable speakers and panelists, which made for a lively and engaging event. I think we all learned a lot and felt inspired to be more curious, bold in our vision and armed with practical solutions to address the key issues we face for the future.”