Take a fresh look at training
Warehousing staff
Insights

Published on

June 8 2022

 

Marcus Potter, CEO of training and qualifications charity, Lantra, describes the new perspectives that his organisation will bring to bear on the staff recruitment, retention and training challenges facing the warehousing sector. Lantra was pleased to work with UKWA on this article as part of our developing partnership. 

 

Perceived, many would argue, unfairly, as a lowly paid, low aspiration sector with limited opportunities for career development and professional progression, the warehousing industry has struggled to attract and retain long-term, committed staff for many years.

Warehousing jobs are also seen – sadly, with some justification, as hazardous. Each year, 1300 people suffer life-changing injuries as a result of lift truck accidents caused by human error. What’s more, it is broadly accepted that this figure – shocking as it is – only represents the ‘reportable’ instances of a wider tide of lower-level Musculo-skeletal and other injuries, so it must be accepted that this is not merely a problem rooted in ill-informed perception.

And, while modern warehouses are increasingly adopting more advanced automated handling solutions which require human workers to operate in harmony with robots and other driverless vehicles, the type of relatively minor injury caused by lifting and twisting may be reduced, the risk of serious incidents remains high - especially if staff are untrained.

In theory though, developments in intralogistics technology allied to the elevation of management of the supply chain to a key board-level function, should make warehouses a more attractive workplace and the logistics industry in general a more enticing career prospect, with opportunities for workers to develop and advance and clear progression paths to technical, engineering, IT, business planning, management and other roles.

But how do we demonstrate these opportunities to potential recruits; how do we deliver the training required (for the individual and for the business); and, how do we retain trained and competent staff?

One key approach must be to encourage the fullest take-up of apprenticeship schemes.  There is understandably some cynicism around this given that the initial impact of the government’s most recent apprentice strategy was a significant drop in the number of apprenticeships offered and taken up!

The reasons for this are complex and still not fully understood – an optimistic view would be that the change in policy forced a realisation that old-style apprenticeships weren’t really fit for purpose. Certainly, there was a feeling that some training providers had been offering what was convenient for them, in terms of trainers and assets that they had available, which reflected past practice rather than the more forward-looking approach that industries actually need.

Whatever the reason, apprenticeships certainly took a dip, and although Lantra’s experience suggests the numbers are recovering, the UK is still well short of the three million apprenticeships that the government was planning for.

Which is, actually, rather strange. There is a big fund of money out there waiting to be claimed for apprentice training. Larger companies pay into a ‘pot’ through the ‘apprenticeship levy’. They can draw on this to fund apprenticeships – but many don’t bother and so, to such organisations, the levy becomes just another form of tax.

Meanwhile, smaller companies that don’t pay the levy are entitled to access the fund to support apprenticeships. In fact, many UKWA members might be surprised to find that the training cost of an apprentice could be as little as £600. It gets better – if a SME logistics services provider has a large company as a customer and that company isn’t using its own full levy entitlement, the client can transfer its entitlement to its 3PL partner as a way of improving its own supply chain efficiency by supporting the development of its 3PL’s staff. Not a lot of people know that, so it is vital to raise awareness of such opportunities.

Warehousing

When it comes to career progression, the extensive experience Lantra has gained over many years working alongside companies operating in the land-based sector, means we have a solid understanding of what businesses and, crucially, their employees need. To address these needs, Lantra is developing an online careers resource. When it comes on stream in summer 2022, this facility will not simply be a ‘first job’ description platform – it will build-in depictions of possible career paths and progressions, taking into account the fact that these aren’t always linear and can involve apparently ‘sideways’ moves. This will allow employers to demonstrate to potential recruits, or indeed, existing staff, the range of career opportunities that are open to them and explain the knowledge and expertise – and, of course, the training and qualifications – that will be needed to enable them to achieve their full potential. We are confident that what we are building will be transferable to the warehousing sector and will be welcomed as a hugely beneficial tool for the industry as it strives to attract the best talent from the labour pool.

Of course, we also need to address the concerns that companies themselves may have about training schemes, especially SMEs. Many small and medium-sized warehouse businesses have at best minimal HR functions, let alone training departments equipped to keep up to date with the intimidating array of bodies and acronyms that can often surround training schemes. It all looks very complicated and a big part of Lantra’s mission is to explain that, really, it isn’t.

For example, Lantra has worked with the Scottish government to produce a toolkit for employers that shows quite simply how they can recruit potential apprentices, what they are paid, what training costs are involved, and what sort of support trainees or apprentices will need. I believe a similar toolkit to guide UKWA members through the process would be hugely beneficial.

I’ve talked here about the need to attract, retain and develop warehousing staff, and the affordability of training for even the smallest companies. I know that, when it comes to training, some firms see the need but doubt they can justify the expense – trust me, it doesn’t cost much to upgrade your workforce. I also know that other managers think that if they invest in training their employees, once trained, staff will just walk away to a better-paid post in another firm. Yes, that happens, but in practice, employees at all levels tend to respect and show loyalty to firms that have invested in their development – they are less likely to walk, and if you do lose them, perhaps other factors could be an influence.

Indeed, if a company of Amazon’s size uses an advertising campaign on national television to promote the training, career progression and personal development opportunities that it offers its logistics personnel, surely the direction of travel is obvious?

Lantra is a ‘not for profit’ training and qualifications charity, and we look forward to working with UKWA to bring new perspectives to bear on the staff recruitment, retention and training challenges facing the warehousing sector.

Lantra doesn’t actually deliver training itself – we are about training design and development, accreditation and quality assessment, including the end-point assessment of around 20 apprenticeship standards.  Being a ‘not for profit’ organisation with charity status, means that we don’t pay shareholders - any surpluses are invested in new activities to support the industries that we work with.

Based on our extensive experience in other ‘land-based’ industries which face comparable workforce problems such as agriculture, horticulture, forestry and construction, we believe that we can bring additional approaches and techniques to the established mix, that will be of tremendous benefit to both employees and employers in the warehousing and logistics sector.

Using a lift truck in a warehouse