That’s double the usual number and represents a new disruption for UK employers, that will follow fast on the heels of Brexit and the pandemic. And even the New York Times is reporting that these twin crises have decimated the warehouse workforce already. We are facing some intertwined labour problems:
- not enough people want to work in warehousing, or even understand the opportunities;
- the risk of people leaving is higher than ever before;
- we need to capitalise on changes – such as the end of furlough – which could induce people from outside our sector to consider careers in warehousing; and
- the skills we require are changing, so even the dedicated people already here deserve investment to help them stay up to date.
It is impossible to step in the same river twice, said Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher to whom we attribute the idea that change is the only constant. But his philosophy wasn’t fearful of the running water: instead, it hinged on the idea that without change, we die.
In warehousing, we have coped with the stockpiling that heralded the UK’s departure from the EU, with the peaks and troughs of panic buying and lockdowns. Furthermore, we have underpinned the roll-out of a world class vaccination supply chain, earning ‘key-worker’ status and unprecedented recognition from the public as well as policymakers. So surely, we have the wherewithal and resilience to weather a workforce storm.
Nurturing an inclusive culture
The solutions may be diverse, but two key elements are the imagination to explore a bigger talent pool and the determination to provide high quality training.
McKinsey’s 2020 report Diversity Wins, confirms the business case for inclusion and diversity is stronger than ever, driving performance and profitability. They go on to reiterate something we firmly believed in at my previous employer, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners: that an inclusive culture is a pre-requisite to make any diversity policy work. It can be tempting to focus on diversity first, starting with plans to recruit candidates from a variety of ethnic and cultural heritages, across a wide age range; maybe introducing more women into a hitherto male-dominated workforce, or taking people on from a different industry. My advice on this is to stop it!
Logisticians often have a bias for action, so we’re easily seduced by the kind of measures I’ve outlined. They are ill-judged as a first step. It is harder, but more effective, to talk to the current staff and explore what cultural norms might be causing harm or holding people back. By engaging with our teams, we can find out what changes are needed to develop an inclusive culture. Existing employees are more likely welcome the work on diversity when they see it in the context of a programme that benefits them too; and new recruits won’t stay long unless retention is a priority.