Building a more diverse and inclusive logistics industry

The industry is making progress in hiring from broader demographics, including those with disabilities and ex-offenders, but leaders must have a robust plan to support staff says Mark Simmons, senior vice president of HR at GXO Logistics UK and Ireland

GXO headshot

The UK logistics industry keeps everything moving, but it has been somewhat slow-moving diversifying its talent pool.

According to Logistics UK’s 2023 skills report, the industry is overwhelmingly represented by workers who describe themselves as white (90.3%) and male (85%). “It’s a sector that’s been very male-dominated and therefore has had challenges attracting a real variety and diversity of talent,” says Mark Simmons, senior vice president of HR at GXO Logistics UK and Ireland. The company is on a mission to build a more inclusive and diverse sector. 

“Things have improved significantly in the time I’ve been working in this sector,” says Simmons.  “But, there’s huge amounts of opportunity that still needs to be capitalised upon.”

Inspiring the next generation

The challenge starts with education. While the UK logistics sector employs around 2.7m people directly and indirectly in logistics roles (8.2% of the UK workforce), it’s an industry that largely works in the background of the UK economy, quietly keeping everything running. As such, a career in logistics isn’t often an obvious career path and might not be on young people’s radar without guidance from those with direct experience in the industry.

Simmons emphasises the need for increased awareness and education about the variety of roles within logistics. “It’s not just driving vehicles or working in a warehouse, there’s a rich variety of opportunities and careers within our sector. That’s probably not truly appreciated by people outside of logistics.”

There’s a rich variety of opportunities and careers within our sector

GXO collaborates with schools and universities to engage potential talent and build awareness of careers within the logistics industry. The company has been a sponsor of the government-backed Generation Logistics campaign, an initiative to find the next generation of logistics talent, since its inception in 2022. In an effort to tackle the industry’s gender divide, GXO aims for a 50/50 gender split across its apprenticeship and graduate programmes.

Simmons notes that prioritising internal progression is vital to inspire and motivate those who join the company. While it’s important to continue to bring in new talent, it’s also crucial to nurture skills and help individuals grow. “The retention rate of our graduates over 22 years is three and a half to four years longer than the industry average based on external data. So people typically stay in our organisation, especially when they have opportunities to grow their roles.”

The company aims to fill one in two roles internally. Simmons has himself had a long career at the company, embarking on his journey with GXO 18 years ago. However, he points out that part of a commitment to developing individuals and diversifying talent in the industry as a whole means accepting that this might mean preparing someone for their next role outside of the organisation. 

“We have no divine right to retain the best talent in the business,” he says. He adds that individuals sometimes leave to develop their skills elsewhere before returning, which is a positive for both the company and the wider industry.

Tapping into new talent pools

As well as inspiring young people, Simmons notes that it’s also important to break down barriers for individuals who could thrive in the industry but might need more support, such as those with disabilities.

“Providing opportunity for people from different backgrounds has been part of what we do for some time,” says Simmons. The company has several strands to its DEI programme, including a scheme supporting veterans when they leave the military, a disability employment initiative and a programme hiring ex-offenders.

Companies should have a plan to support staff once they join, including inviting feedback from employees. Each hiring initiative at GXO is backed up with a robust plan and support network once an individual joins. 

Simmons explains that the company is now a Level 3 Disability Confident Employer, a reflection of its efforts in both hiring and supporting staff with disabilities. Part of that support includes continuous feedback and dialogue, with a disability working group and focus groups that facilitate ongoing discussions and improvement. He adds there have been lessons along the way, referencing the WorkFit scheme, through which the company is the largest employer of individuals with Down’s syndrome in the UK.

It’s important to ensure we place individuals with success in mind, and a wrap-around support network is critical

“We’ve learned that some parts of our business are not as equipped to manage and don’t have the necessary on-site support, depending on shifts or hours or scale of operation. It’s important to ensure we place individuals with success in mind, and a wrap-around support network is critical,” he says. “We’ve definitely made some mistakes in previous years because individuals wanted to support initiatives but it just wasn’t quite the right environment.” 

Simmons advises other leaders to think before they act and ensure that initiatives can be meaningful, authentic and aligned with the organisation’s goals.

Aside from the clear business benefits of having a rich talent pool and engaged workforce, Simmons says seeing the impact on individuals is incredibly rewarding. 

“As an employer, it gives us real pride providing opportunities for individuals, and for some of these groups it’s life-changing stuff and things we’d take for granted,” he says. He gives the example of an ex-offender who was able to buy his children Christmas presents with money he’d earned for the first time in his life after accepting a warehouse role. 

Another employee who joined through the WorkFit programme has found a sense of personal independence he didn’t have before taking the job. “It can be revolutionary and life-changing for a lot of people and the knock-on effects of the teams that work with those individuals is really powerful,” Simmon says.

As the logistics industry continues its efforts to diversify its talent pool, it not only strengthens businesses but also contributes to societal wellbeing by creating opportunities for individuals who might otherwise be overlooked. It’s not just a strategic imperative but an investment in people’s lives.