Business leaders meet to discuss the Global Logistics industry

A panel of business leaders met for a round table discussion that covered perceptions of the global logistics industry, associated skills shortages and the potential fallout from Britain leaving the EU.

The panel included;

  • Simon Hobbs, Vice President, UK Supply Chain Development, Ceva Logistics
  • Julian Stott, Development Manager, MAG Property
  • Jared Smith, Operations Manager, DHL
  • Dave Price, Operations Director, Fresh Logistics
  • Peter Isler, Managing Director, Baxter Freight
  • James Whybrow, Vice Principal, Northampton College
  • Mary Ravenscroft, Head of Distribution, Midlands, Atradius
  • Steve Barry, Director, Road Haulage Association
  • Jack Kelly, Head of External Affairs, East Midlands Airport

How big an impact would a Brexit have on the logistics sector?

Peter Isler: One of my first jobs in 1980 was customs clearance of trailers coming in from Germany. It added a day to the transit of freight and we were adding a customs clearance charge to freight movement. You think about transporting 1,000 kilos to or from the Ruhr, which costs £130 to £160. You’ve got to add another £20 or £25 customs clearance charge, plus the cost in time and money of some of those trailers being pulled over and inspected by customs. So the cost can increase by 15 to 20 per cent and we can’t soak that up; it’s going to have to be paid by the customer. It makes us uncompetitive to even think about exiting the EU.

Steve Barry: The Road Haulage Association (RHA) is staying neutral on the issue: we want to advise our members with as much clarity as possible. We’ve done straw polls; there’s an equal split between members who say ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’.

Simon Hobbs: No-one has come forward with a clear argument either way, it’s so up in the air and vague. Oxford Economics did a poll in March: 45 per cent wanted to stay, 40 per cent wanted to leave. It’s going to be a really close thing. Dave Price If there is a Brexit no-one knows what will happen on a practical level. Are they going to continue to allow British lorries to drive freely through, but put on a charge at the other end? Or will they charge at every border?

Mary Ravenscroft: One thing joining the EU did do was make people a bit lazy about exporting because they were forgetting there are places beyond Europe.

Price: All an exit will do is to add uncertainty to business and the country. Nobody knows what will happen. No-one will benefit, neither consumers nor businesses.

Jared Smith: The potential impact on the currency from a long and protracted debate over the next few months is a concern.

Julian Stott: It’s challenging. There are uncertainties but there’s a compelling case to stay in the EU.

How big a problem are skill shortages and how should it be tackled?

Barry: There are estimated to be 60,000 foreign drivers supporting the industry in the UK. That’s not good for the economy – quite often those foreign drivers are sending those wages home.

Hobbs: We employ a lot of drivers, it’s an issue, but it’s not the biggest one. The worry for us is that 62 per cent of drivers in the industry are over 45 years old. It’s about attracting people into the industry in the long term. The challenge is that a lot of
the 16-17 year-olds don’t understand logistics. It’s about showing them that it’s not just about drivers and warehouse staff; there’s a whole host of different careers within the industry, including accountancy, design, IT, legal, project management
and sales. We need to modernise the industry to show people what it’s really about.

Smith: Working nightshifts doesn’t sound attractive, but what’s going on then is exciting because it changes constantly. You have late aircraft, late trucks and overloads on aircraft to deal with. Logistics companies also have a wide-reaching area of operations, so you have great opportunities to work globally. I found that attractive and we can use that to market the industry to young people.

Stott: Logistics is highly skilled and there’s a real tech element. We should certainly be marketing the diversity of skills in the industry to young people.

James Whybrow: We have launched an academy, led by local employers, which gave an introduction to logistics to 200 students. Of that 90 to 100 people said they wanted to find out more and went on a site tour. We’re now down to a group of
30, which are being mentored by logistics businesses, with part of it being an employment placement on
site. We want to expand this. There are a number of challenges in the industry but there are a number of solutions for them.

Jack Kelly: While there are things you can do to make the managerial side of the industry seem sexy, making sure you fill those hundreds of mainly driving vacancies at the bottom of the organisations is difficult; this is a societal issue.

Barry: People fall into being a lorry driver, warehouse operative or an admin assistant. But only eight per cent of our industry are women, so we need to make it more attractive. Working hours need to be flexible and the facilities more female-friendly. There are thousands of warehouse jobs in Daventry and more than 60 per cent of those are supplemented by EU workers. Local
people don’t see it has an attractive job with an attractive wage.

For the full interview please click on the download link.