While unemployment in the UK remains at a record low, there is no doubt that a growing proportion of the workforce is becoming concerned by the impact of automation on existing jobs. Certainly within logistics and the supply chain, automation is becoming essential as organisations look to respond to ever increasing consumer demands for instant gratification. While automation will have an impact on some roles, the fact is that a mix of manual, semi- and fully-automated processes will continue for years to come. What is required, therefore, is a workforce armed not only with the right skills but also the adaptability to cope with a changing environment.
From a better foundation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to the new Apprenticeship Levy, close alliance between education and industry, and a culture of employee development, Steve Richmond, Director – Logistics Systems, Jungheinrich UK, discusses the foundations for tomorrow’s workforce.
Manufacturing and logistics industries are embarking upon a period of extraordinary change. Automation, artificial intelligence and big data, combined with consolidation and globalisation, are transforming innovation and underpinning new end to end processes. For organisations that are already struggling to recruit employees with the correct skillsets, this technology led change raises new challenges alongside the opportunities.
While government initiatives must clearly play a part in helping the UK to build the workforce of the future, leading organisations within logistics and manufacturing must also embrace their social responsibility to ensure employees – both current and future – are armed with the correct skills. Indeed, in an educational environment that still lacks the required investment in or commitment to STEM, without this investment employees will struggle to adapt to an increasingly automated workplace and organisations will lack the essential foundation for growth.
The challenge for industry is not only to inspire the next generation and to share the message that logistics and distribution offers an array of career opportunities beyond warehouse picking and fork lift truck driving. It is also to provide young people with access to the right skills and courses within the education system.
One of the most important trends, and one which Jungheinrich wholeheartedly embraces, is the growing recognition that organisations need to be far more open minded about sourcing potential employees – and that means looking at graduates and beyond. While almost 50 per cent of school leavers now opt for some form of degree level education, that still leaves huge swathes of talented individuals choosing a different route.
Certainly the Apprenticeship Levy introduced by the government in 2017 reflects the need to offer school leavers both more choice and better training. Jungheinrich offers a series of employment programmes, including its Sales Academy Scheme and International Graduate Programme. It has also been committed to engineering apprenticeships for many decades, and the introduction of the Levy has supported the extension of this apprenticeship model. With 50 individuals currently in one- to three-year programmes encompassing three apprenticeships – Engineering Forklift Maintenance and Repair, Business Admin and, new to 2017, Customer Service – the focus will be to steadily introduce more apprenticeship pathways in different disciplines in the future.
The other significant difference about the Apprenticeship Levy is that the funding is not limited to new entrants to the workplace. It can and is being used to upskill and retrain existing employees, an issue which is becoming an essential component of building adaptability into tomorrow’s workforce.
One of the additional benefits of the new Levy model is that it provides organisations with far greater control over the educational aspect of the Apprenticeship, enabling companies and colleges to foster closer relationships that should result in courses that deliver the skills required by industry. Collaboration of this kind is an important aspect of the work by industry initiatives and academies, such as the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) in recent years. It also underpins, for example, the course development of the Northern Logistics Academy (NLA), a logistics and transport training specialist based in northwest England, which delivers sector specific training and qualifications.
Industry and education must work together in this way to help bridge skills shortages and develop the workforce of tomorrow. It’s something that Jungheinrich recognises responsibility for at its most senior level of management, with two directors already on the boards for such initiatives. Logistics represents a key employment opportunity and driver for growth in the UK, and so it’s crucial that businesses engage with and encourage ways to gain collaborative insight into the skills and competences required for the future. In addition to tailoring the courses towards employment needs, collaboration provides students with direct access to industry – from work placements to job opportunities.
Workforce Development Culture
Given the pace of technology and operational change, it is also essential to upskill existing employees. Indeed, socially responsible companies should be actively looking to create a corporate culture that enables individuals to progress. In today’s tech savvy world, many individuals will already have great digital skills and expertise, yet while technically competent and confident at home they may not realise the value of these skills to the workplace. From ensuring managers are empowered and able to spot and nurture talented individuals, to raising employee awareness, it is essential to encourage individuals to maximise their talents.
In addition to improving employee retention, a continuous focus on training and development will provide employees with the adaptability required in a changing business. It also demonstrates that a company values transferable skills: however automated a business may become, the emotional capacity and ability to manage people and complex problems will always remain and is another essential component of the education process.
Furthermore, a focus on actively developing existing staff reinforces the message that logistics is a compelling career choice offering diverse opportunities. From IT experts to web developers and logistics experts able to work with global organisations, it is essential to take the message into schools and colleges to inspire the next generation into the industry, and individuals who have risen through the ranks can become excellent role models.
Combining this message with access to educational establishments that offer courses designed specifically to reflect the skills requirements, plus an alternative – in apprenticeships – to the degree route, is going to be key in creating an adaptable, highly skilled future workforce within the logistics sector.