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The future rests on a dynamic labour market

Updated: Nov 27

We often hear about the skills shortage and the cliff edge that companies face getting the right people with the right skills and qualifications to fill vacancies.


With that said, the events of 2020 have created an opportunity for people to port their skills and careers like never before, and many are now considering the options for their work / life balance and what they actually want to do for a living.

For employers, it’s a golden opportunity to attract the right people with a different set of skills perhaps from a different sector or background, and to look beyond the staid approach of simply ticking boxes against a job description.


As you’re no doubt aware, logistics has been thriving since the start of the pandemic. Recent research shows there’s been an increase in vacancies at all stages of the supply chain; in September alone there were over 40,000 positions available in warehousing, logistics and delivery. However, half of these jobs were entry-level positions that can’t be fulfilled by people already in the sector because they didn’t have the requisite skills, experience or motivation.


Naturally, this creates the possibility of attracting people from other sectors and nurturing their new career through apprenticeships, training, incentives and support. Motivated candidates are coming into the market, particularly from hard-hit sectors such as retail, hospitality and the arts, and expert analysis suggests over 1 in 3 of UK workers will rely on transferable skills to land their next role, so it’s clear that there’s a need for flexibility and a new way of thinking on the part of employers.


Taking a look at the myriad jobs in logistics and supply chain, entry-level warehouse work appears to offer the best opportunity to attract people from elsewhere because the tasks are very process-driven, which makes it easier to train people without the need for highly developed skills. However, job security’s volatile, especially when extra staff are recruited on a short term contract to meet seasonal demand. Workers can also have a misconception about the conditions and opportunities available to them, so are reluctant to view it as anything more than a temporary solution.


In terms of more skilled positions (and to meet rising demand) businesses need to attract, train and retain skilled workers to be drivers, pickers, coordinators and engineers, but there’s evidence this is happening already. In New Zealand, for example, an acute shortage of train drivers was addressed after a large number of airline pilots were made redundant; the comparable skills of pilots and train drivers were so similar and transferable that it made the transition not only possible but relatively straightforward because the technology used in training and on the job made it easier to achieve.


But can this be repeated in other areas? And what skills are transferable?


The key is to start looking at people’s natural ability. In other words, match their personality with their competence to deliver the work. As an example, think about the benefits of recruiting people who are organised and punctual and able to deal with early starts yet still be a friendly customer-facing ambassador when meeting people or making deliveries. It’s often possible to determine a candidate’s attributes based on their experience in other sectors and by having a simple face to face conversation.


But employers also need to change their long term recruitment plan. If you can’t find the right candidate with experience in logistics, what mix of transferable skills will allow someone to cross over from elsewhere and get up to speed quickly? What training investment will be required? What sectors should or could they have worked in and, more importantly, how can you attract them?

As time and technology moves on and covid becomes a distance memory, an increasing number of jobs will become automated and the landscape of the labour market will change dramatically. This is where personal attributes will come to the fore; customer service roles cannot be replicated by robots, and customer experience will be the number one priority in almost all sectors.


Our research in the Steer to Career project (project-steertocareer.eu) seems to support the idea that professional drivers will, in time, be replaced by full vehicle automation. Assuming the infrastructure’s ready, city passenger transport (as a low-speed, controllable form of transport) will be the first driving job without a need for a driver, and this will put a huge number of professionals at risk of redundancy. If industry recognises the risk now, then training can be provided to equip bus and coach drivers with skills and competences for redeployment, making good use of their experience and reducing the considerable cost of recruiting fresh faces.


In other research it appears that automation will almost certainly affect jobs. Half of the manufacturing hours worked today are spent on manual tasks, and analysis of manufacturing jobs found that 48% of the time is currently spent performing manual or physical tasks that could be replaced by robotics. By 2030 only 35% of time will be spent by people on such tasks, and by 2025 it’s projected that 10-15% of jobs in 3 sectors (manufacturing, transportation and storage and retail) will be subject to part or full automation, rising dramatically to 50% of jobs performed by robots in 2035. That’s just 15 years away!


When you consider the economics, it’s clear to see why. Industrial robot prices are falling and automated technology is becoming more reliable and more accessible. Couple that with the fact that the cost of labour is generally increasing and the justification for keeping low-skilled workers is difficult to make.



However, technology cannot do without people and robots are unlikely to replace humans. Automation will bring opportunity and the creation of new jobs, and it’s important to understand that that our individual and unique abilities, skills and gifts will never be replaced by technology.

But work needs to begin now to avoid sleepwalking into a labour market crisis. As we recover from the economic disaster of coronavirus businesses need to change and adapt their approach to recruitment in logistics. Getting the right people with the right attributes, a willingness to learn, the flexibility to adapt and the drive to succeed will pay dividends over the long term, but the industry has to take the lead on it and always consider the bigger picture. What made a good candidate 5 years ago may not be the same now…

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