The last few months have been nothing short of challenging for employers and jobseekers alike. And while the news has been awash with stories about the negative impact Covid-19 has had on the employment market – with the latest statistics from the ONS revealing that job vacancies fell to 333,000 between April and June – the logistics arena has fared comparably well. So, as we gradually edge further out of the pandemic, and pockets of the economy that have laid almost dormant since lockdown was imposed start up once again, this blog explores current skills demand and what the future looks like for logistics talent.
The changing nature of logistics demand during Covid-19
While many operations were closed in the immediate days after lockdown was imposed, lots opened up again – albeit in a different way – very soon afterwards. And the result of this has meant that many players in the market have seen huge demand for their services, in some cases more so than pre Covid-19 - as the supply chain rapidly evolved to meet the changing requirements of its stakeholders. And, in some cases, employers battled to find enough staff to cope with the increased demand.
Research from the British Chambers of Commerce back in April, for example, revealed that logistics was seeing the biggest demand for staff as businesses adjusted to the coronavirus pandemic. Those particularly sought after were warehousing teams and drivers as consumers quickly shifted to online shopping. And with lots of other sectors – leisure and hospitality, for example - effectively shutting down, employers within the logistics arena were able to look to different talent pools to source staff to ensure they had the right people in the right roles at the right time.
However, if we look towards the future, where arguably demand for logistics talent is set to only increase, employers will face a challenge of attracting staff in an arena that has historically struggled with skills shortages. The sector has long struggled with a talent deficit – with research from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) revealing that even before Covid-19, 54% of logistics companies expected skills shortages to increase over the next five years. So while coronavirus has undoubtedly positioned a career in the field as an attractive option and demonstrated just how crucial the sector is at keeping the UK ticking, the fact remains that work needs to be done to not only encourage more people into the sector, but also embrace advancements in technology that can assist with talent management strategies.
Positioning the sector as an attractive career route
Perhaps the most important area that needs addressing is how employers, educational establishments, and government position the sector as an attractive career route for emerging talent. This is particularly pressing given that research from Talent in Logistics has revealed that just 9% of the current workforce are under 25, 45% are over 45 and only 8% of young people view the sector as an attractive career option. Consequently, with the arena facing a retirement cliff and a lack of emerging talent entering the field, work needs to be done quickly to ensure there are enough skills in the market to serve demand. The Talent in Logistics report goes as far as saying that failure to do so could potentially cause the nation to “grind to a halt”. So while Covid-19 has without doubt shone a spotlight on the logistics sector, and demonstrated not only the varied options within the field, but also the fantastic work it does in keeping supply chains operating in times of crisis, we need to build on this.
Embracing technological advancements and AI
In addition to attracting emerging talent, the sector must also embrace technological innovation, in particular AI and automation, to not only boost efficiencies, but also assist with talent shortages. And while the digital revolution has certainly been gaining pace within the sector over recent years, there is clearly more that can be done. And this is the very topic of a recent article by Matei Beremski, co-founder and chief product officer, of 7bridges. Beremski highlights how many back office functions can benefit from automation: “There are plenty of back-office and internal functions (accounting, HR, finance etc.), which are renowned for involving plenty of detail-oriented, tiresomely repetitive tasks. It’s here that AI - via cognitive automation - offers the chance to save time and money, and significantly boost productivity and accuracy”.
However it’s not only back office functions that Beremski believes can benefit from automation, but rather other specialisms that currently involve huge amounts of manpower: “Let’s consider the role of cognitive automation in customs brokerage processes, for instance. This is a complex area of logistics, relying on in-depth knowledge of specific regulations, industries, and customers. There is constant cross-checking of information for shipping documents and invoices, which need to be accurate and completely harmonized before sharing with customs officers. The processes involved are time-intensive, and mistakes can be costly.
“This is where an AI platform comes in. If effectively trained in industry regulations and brokerage data, it can use language processing to swiftly extract relevant information from a broad range of customs documents, and ultimately produce a customs declaration ready for human review. This significantly reduces the amount of man-power needed, and minimizes the opportunities for human error and oversight.”
So while this is certainly something that could help reduce the need for manpower in the future to help combat skills shortages, and we are in fact already seeing other parts of the supply chain utilising the likes of robots to deliver shopping, and drones to deliver packages, more widespread adoption will likely be required.
The future of logistics skills
We have absolutely no doubt that emerging technology will certainly play a part in reducing the amount of people required in some areas of the logistics space, and it will be interesting to see how this evolves in the future. However, it is important to remember that no matter how much tech is adopted the fact remains that people will be needed to manage this process which will likely bring a new breed of skill sets that companies require. Consequently, there needs to be a focus on adopting tech running alongside a drive to attract emerging talent into the field. Failure to do so will only serve to exacerbate an already present talent deficit.
To find out how you access the best logistics talent for your firm, contact our experts today to find out how we can help you.