How is logistics retaining talent after its pandemic success?

2020 was a milestone year in many ways, not least because of the global pandemic, which turned everyday life on its head.

As bricks and mortar retailers closed their doors and panic buying gripped the nation, consumer shopping habits changed dramatically, with online retail as a proportion of all retail sales increasing from 19% to 36% in just a few short months.

Unsurprisingly, this shift from physical to online retail led to increased demand for both the warehouse space required to store goods and the employees needed to process these orders, but is this pandemic-fuelled jobs boost just a flash in the pan?

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Online sales are unlikely to drop back to pre-pandemic levels and are expected to remain high. The pandemic also highlighted the vulnerability of supply chains and this, coupled with concerns over Brexit, means more companies will look to store goods in the UK to help them increase their resilience.

The conditions created by the pandemic have simply accelerated the trend towards online shopping and, as a result, the sector will need a greater number of workers to help it satisfy demand.

The logistics sector has long grappled with a somewhat poor reputation for low pay, repetitive and monotonous job roles and uninspiring work environments. However, this stereotypical view of warehouse jobs is no longer accurate.

Many modern warehouses rely on automation and robotics to increase productivity and these hi-tech systems require skilled individuals who can not only design, build and install them but also maintain and work alongside them.

Even traditional warehouse roles, such as picking and packing, have changed, with the introduction of hand-held technology and state of the art packaging machines.

Once overlooked, the pandemic has given the logistics sector its long-deserved moment in the sun and its employees, who were given key worker status alongside health professionals, believe this recognition now means their roles are viewed more positively.

Industry research by Prologis UK shows that one in two logistics workers believe they are perceived more positively now than before the pandemic.

So, with job and confidence levels at an all-time high, how can employers in the sector attract and retain the best talent?

When it comes to employee welfare, the logistics sector has traditionally lagged behind the retail and office sectors; but this is no longer the case.

Today’s potential recruits place significant value upon ‘quality-of-life’ perks, such as employee canteens, well-equipped washrooms, lockers, parking spaces, cycle racks, public transport infrastructure and pleasant outside space.

Some employers are even providing gyms within the warehouse. Those businesses leading the way in recruitment know that taking a holistic view of an employee’s reward and remuneration packages is critical and it’s no longer just about pay.

Some logistics companies have reported significant improvements in retention rates from seemingly simple measures such as providing free tea and coffee and equipping all employees with branded fleeces.

While others have introduced attractive reward and recognition packages and offer a clear framework for career progression.

People are the cogs that drive the logistics sector and forward-thinking companies are keen to promote the industry as a great place to work with a variety of jobs to suit all levels of ambition, as well as flexible working hours and practises.

A key misconception about the logistics sector is that jobs are largely low-skilled with little opportunity for career progression.

While there are still a good number of low-skilled and entry level jobs, advancements in the fields of automation and AI mean that many logistics sector jobs are demanding different skillsets and can provide well-paid, long-term careers.

For younger people who may not be attracted by courses in higher education, many employers in the sector are also offering vocational training programmes and apprenticeships.

Such training is helping to strengthen their skills base at the same time as introducing more talented young people to the world of logistics.

Employees are at the heart of any business, and as e-commerce continues to fuel demand for logistics property, having access to skilled and well-motivated workers has become essential.

The seven ‘R’s of logistics have always been: the right products, with the right customer, in the right quantity, in the right condition, in the right place, at the right time and at the right cost.

Perhaps the industry should consider adding an eighth ‘R’ to acknowledge the importance of having the ‘right people’ working across the supply chain?

It’s certainly an exciting time for the logistics sector, with rising demand for property and increased use of digital technologies driving improvements in efficiency and productivity.

People with the right skills and capabilities will be central to that success and for those looking to start their careers, or to change direction, logistics certainly has a lot to offer.

Liz Allister is real estate and customer experience manager for Prologis UK