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Growing our own talent

28 October 2021

Around 2.5 million people are employed in logistics in the UK and about one in five of those work in a warehouse. The surge of online shopping over the months of lockdown has driven demand for warehousing to an all-time high, while delivery drivers and warehouse workers have achieved hitherto undreamed-of recognition as essential workers, keeping the nation clothed and fed, says Clare Bottle.

GONE ARE the days when working in a warehouse just meant menial, repetitive tasks. There are plenty of exciting career opportunities created by new software systems, robotics, sustainability and more. Yet despite all this, entry level recruitment and career progression rates in warehousing and logistics are stalling. 

As the leading trade organisation for the warehousing sector, UKWA is working hard to understand why, and a key focus for 2022 will be to develop a coherent strategy and implement practical steps to help tackle the labour shortage crisis.

We are already encouraging our Members to embrace diversity to widen the talent pool. There is a clear business case for inclusion and diversity driving performance and profitability. An inclusive culture is a pre-requisite to make any diversity policy work.

For example, less than 6% of people with a learning difficulty are in paid employment. UKWA Member XPO Logistics is one company leading the way, working alongside WorkFit, the employment program delivered by the Down’s Syndrome Association, to recruit from a pool of people able to work hard and deliver results.

Another example of warehousing and logistics companies thinking outside the box is Clipper Logistics, who have engaged with Tempus Novo the award-winning charity that helps serving and ex-offenders find employment.  Upon release 64% of prisoners are back in prison within 2 years – for those who find work through Tempus Novo, it’s less than 2%. What’s more, Clipper confirms that by offering training and employment opportunities to ex-offenders, not only are they meeting CSR goals, but they are gaining access to talented people with useful skills who are highly motivated to prove themselves to be good employees.

However, UKWA believes that the challenge to attract people into the industry starts with education. Currently there are no GCSEs or A levels in logistics or supply chain, let alone warehousing. How then are our children meant to find a career in warehousing, if at 18 they have no real idea of what goes on inside a warehouse? 

Disappointingly, despite positive feedback from teachers, the Government has now decided to defund BTECs too. 

At undergraduate level, there are courses available in logistics, but just 17 UK institutions offer such courses compared to 103 universities to choose from to study medicine and 119 for law.

Part of UKWA’s mission is to redress this balance; highlighting to government the dearth of training opportunity in our industry, and simultaneously developing own our purpose-designed training programme, which we will roll out in 2022.

We have already submitted a response to the government consultation on its National Skills Fund, underlining the real need for training in the warehousing sector and pointing out that there are virtually no training providers offering the Highfield L3 Diploma in Warehousing & Storage (RFQ) course and none providing Bootcamps. Effectively, this means that although these courses are on the Government’s list of eligible qualifications under the National Skills Fund, they are not really available.

Other barriers for adults wishing to access training for employment in the sector, include employers and potential learners being unaware of what is available, training providers and awarding organisations being unclear about exactly what is allowed, and course content being misaligned with employers’ needs.

In warehousing, the culture around training is sometimes negatively influenced by the view that skills and knowledge are best acquired through experience: this must be addressed with better communication about careers, coupled with accurate information about all the financial options for relevant training.  UKWA is pleased to support the industry-wide Think Logistics programme for schools and colleges and the Novus scheme for university students, which both help to improve the visibility of logistics as a great career.

Within businesses, however, training budgets are still dedicated to mandatory training: chiefly RTITB accreditation for fork-lift truck driving, plus workplace requirements such as manual handling and first aid qualifications. Employers are faced with a range of options for training they must fund themselves, as well as a confusing array of public funding for other training. In the warehousing sector, this is a problem because there are typically slim profit margins, very flat management structures across shift-based teams and a focus on immediate operational concerns.

While Apprenticeships provide a good framework, in that funding can be used across a broad range of qualifications, drawbacks include the demand for 20% “off the job” learning and the fact that the Apprenticeship Levy funds training costs, but not salary costs.  Apprenticeship funding can also be hard for SMEs to navigate, but the good news is that UKWA can help broker relationships, introducing our smaller Members to Levy-paying companies who have funds to spare.

Ultimately, it is up to the warehouse sector to provide its own high-quality sector-specific training. The benefits of learning and development are well documented. Not only does training provide the necessary technical skills for employees to do their job, it improves productivity and performance too.

Employees who have access to training and professional development increase in confidence, take ownership of their responsibilities and become more loyal workers who are less likely to leave the business – and, as we know, staff retention is another major challenge in the sector.

UKWA believes that there is a strong, pent-up demand for training following the months of social distancing and home working during successive lockdowns. Workers are ready to re-engage in their own development, and we need to capitalise on the newly recognised status of logistics with world class training provision.

This issue is at the top of the agenda at UKWA – along with sustainability and digitisation. Accordingly, the theme of the UKWA National Conference 2022 will be ‘Training for the Future’. 

With continued communication with government, training providers, our own Members and the wider logistics community, we can and will do more to attract and nurture talent in this exciting, fast-moving and rapidly growing industry!

Clare Bottle, CEO, UKWA


In addition to our keen focus on training and skills development, UKWA will be supporting Members in embracing more sustainable operations as part of our commitment to UK’s drive to Net Zero by 2050. We will also be helping Members with the transition to digitisation through our continued involvement with the Digital Logistics on a Shoestring project, led by the University of Cambridge. 

In response to new regulations and an increased culture of litigation post-Brexit and post-pandemic, UKWA will be promoting its exclusive digital Risk Analysis Tool, which is designed to help Members protect their business by checking compliance and managing risk.