The changing face of logistics: why the industry is seeking new voices

Logistics employees make up 7% of the UK’s workforce, but only 7% of young people would consider a job in the sector. Where is the industry getting it wrong?

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As sectors go, logistics is about as integral to keeping the country ticking over as water, energy and the internet. It’s the de facto fourth utility, essential for keeping global supply chains moving and covering the procurement, storage and distribution of goods that power the economy.

The sheer scale of the sector spans the collective minds and manpower of two million employees across the UK - or 7% of the country’s workforce. But despite its size and significance, it remains a somewhat invisible and unsung hero.

While Covid-19 swept the nation, shops shut their doors, businesses pivoted to online, and millions of people began working and shopping almost entirely from home. This digital paradigm shift pushed the industry to breaking point, but it stepped up to keep vital medicines, foods, drinks and products flowing to hospitals, shops and homes in every postcode.

The greatest shift in the sector in recent years has been technological. Like many industries, the future of logistics will be driven by more diverse skills 

Research carried out by Prologis UK, a global leader in real estate and supply chain logistics, found that 92% of people surveyed nationwide agreed that logistics workers were seen more positively during the pandemic. This recognition has brought a sense of fulfilment to those working in the sector, with 58% of logistics workers stating that they feel proud of their role. And, with four in five people categorising logistics employees as key workers today, that positive legacy very much lingers.

The perception problem at the centre of a recruitment crisis

Career paths in logistics should be celebrated, admired, and pursued, but the industry is struggling to attract and retain a new generation of skilled employees. Prologis’ 2023 Critical Infrastructure report finds just 7% of young adults would consider a job in logistics. Amid ongoing driver shortages, an ageing population, and an outflow of EU talent post-Brexit, recruitment has become the latest in a slew of challenges facing even the UK’s largest logistics employers. Time, then, for a refresh.

In a bid to supercharge the economy and bring new talent into the fold, the UK government has invested in Generation Logistics, a two-year scheme to work alongside the industry to raise the profile of logistics in schools and colleges nationwide. With £300,000 of funding on the line, the aim is clear: encourage young people into a lasting career in logistics. Robin Woodbridge, head of capital deployment and leasing at Prologis UK, says changing perceptions will be central to realising that ambition.

“A lot of people think that logistics is purely drivers delivering online orders to their doorstep,” he says. “But in a typical logistics building, drivers make up roughly 6% of employees. Drivers are hugely important, as we saw during Covid, but there are so many other opportunities that suit people with a range of skills in offices, warehouses and on the road.”

The spectrum of jobs in logistics is continuing to expand, with staff spread across warehouse, driver, office and management roles. Perhaps the greatest shift in the sector in recent years has been technological. Like many industries, the future of logistics will be driven by more diverse skills.

Seasonal surges in demand for products mean hiring thousands of new staff to keep products moving and avoid delays. However, automation could help the sector to avoid shortfalls in recruitment at peak periods and improve efficiency by carrying out manual tasks in warehouses - but that’s not all, says Woodbridge. “The rise of robotics, automation and even artificial intelligence will encourage the industry to hire staff with software development, coding and AI skills,” he says. “These are very popular career choices for young people, and we want them to know that there are opportunities in logistics to pursue these careers.”

For the love of logistics

But how can logistics attract and retain tech-savvy staff ahead of businesses in other industries, boasting swanky city centre offices resembling hotels, enticing workplace cultures and big wage packets?

Job satisfaction is a key selling point. Prologis research conducted earlier this year among logistics and warehousing workers revealed that 66% of sector employees love their chosen career, and 69% of employees across the entire logistics workforce, aged between 18 and 34, say they are likely to recommend a career in the industry.

Similarly, the case for stable and long-term employment and career development is strong. In 2022, 91% of sector workers were full-time, and more than half (54%) of the workforce had been employed in logistics for over a decade, with 63% of sector workers aged 18 to 34 agreeing that they see their current career as a long-term move.

For those starting out, formal qualifications don’t present a significant barrier. According to data from YouGov analysed by Frontier Economics, most logistics managers (63%) do not hold a university degree or equivalent qualifications. Of those that do, qualifications in science, engineering, law, business, and finance are the most popular and showcase the potential routes for young people to take into the industry if they do so after gaining an undergraduate degree.

To really win the war for talent, logistics still has work to do to improve its placemaking endeavours and banish the image of soulless warehouses, pallets and forklift trucks

But to really win the war for talent, logistics still has work to do to improve its placemaking endeavours and banish the image of soulless warehouses, pallets and forklift trucks. Many logistics sites don’t prioritise or even consider access to outdoor seating areas and green spaces, which could further improve employee wellbeing and satisfaction. “We’re trying to make our buildings, the places around our buildings and our integration with the community way better,” Woodbridge explains. For Prologis, this has been a focus for over ten years. He continues: “Why can’t you come into a logistics park and have walking routes? Why can’t you have a gym? Why can’t you have outdoor seating and better environments in the building?”

Prologis’ Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal, based in Northamptonshire, provides a window into the future. Recognised as the premier logistics park in the UK, it boasts dedicated external amenity areas for staff, and its on-site training academy, The Hub, aims to identify and upskill the next generation of highly-capable logistics professionals while nurturing a robust workforce pipeline.

This approach provides positive initiatives we hope the wider logistics industry will continue to follow, says Woodbridge, pointing to the need to engage young talent to meet the increasing demands the sector is likely to face. Between 2022 and 2027, the online retail market is predicted to grow by 29%. So, it’s a case of when, not if, the industry must reposition itself to meet the demands of tomorrow, welcoming the class of 2023 and beyond.

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