Keeping Britain’s commerce moving
By Samantha White
Securing key worker status for members during the pandemic, innovative projects to remedy a shortage of qualified staff in the workforce and programmes to attract talent into the sector for the future are just some of the ways Logistics UK has served its members and raised the sector’s profile in recent years. The organisation’s laser focus on member needs garnered the Trade Association of the Year trophy at the Memcom Awards 2022.
“Nobody really thought about logistics until they couldn't find toilet rolls!” notes Rona Hunnisett, Deputy Director of Communications, Logistics UK. “The COVID pandemic made it very clear that people need logistics, as well as just how resilient and adaptable the sector is.”
Rona and the wider team at the association have worked hard to raise awareness of the essential role the sector plays in keeping trade moving. “People are now starting to understand and appreciate the supply chain, as well as all the work that goes on within it, while our membership support continues to answer the needs of our members, swiftly and efficiently.”
Logistics UK represents the industry at large: whether that's road, rail, sea, air or inland waterways. The membership also encompasses the buyers of logistics, such as retailers and manufacturers.
“The big thing that we achieved is getting an acknowledgement from government and other stakeholders that Logistics is a key industry sector. From the beginning of the pandemic, our policy and media teams really pushed to get members this recognition and ensure that trade could continue to flow despite lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions.”
Securing designation of logistics staff as ‘key workers’ meant that they could access childcare during the various lockdowns, gave them access to catering and rest facilities on the road, as well as to fuel stations when many sites were closed.
Keeping Britain’s commerce moving
At the height of the pandemic, Logistics UK came up with a very simple solution to a pressing problem. “We had members calling and emailing to say, ‘I've lost four or five drivers because they've all got COVID, or they're self-isolating, and I've got these loads that need to move.’ Meanwhile, in the hospitality sector, which had all but shut down, there were lots of drivers who needed work.”
To connect people who needed things moving with available drivers, Rona and the communications team set up a skills swap. “We created a hashtag and we put a bit of paid-for social media behind it. We invited people to ring in or get in touch online and tell us what they needed or could offer, and we matched them all up.”
The skills swap was also highlighted in the member magazine and on the website. Promoting the network in email signatures proved effective. “Every email that went out from us had a message saying: ‘if you need to link a load, give us a call!’”
The scheme’s success meant that loads were connected with qualified drivers to take them from A to B, and members with staff who had been furloughed or laid off, could give them some employment. It kept their trucks moving, preventing problems that can arise when vehicles are stuck in the yard, exposed to the elements.
Meanwhile, the member relations teams were busy ensuring that members had swift access to the information they needed. Guidance available via phone or email covers any aspect of running a logistics business, from getting customs numbers right to transporting dangerous goods and calls handled during the past year have reached their highest ever levels.
An industry that finds solutions
The policy team worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, attending round tables, face to face and online meetings, to make sure that government and other stakeholders were aware of what members needed, and in particular, Logistics UK chief executive David Wells worked hard to build relationships with BEIS, the Department for Transport and the Treasury.
The Logistics UK team offered politicians potential solutions to the problems they were facing, a number of which were adopted. Even those that weren’t accepted wholesale led to “a dialogue rather than an imposition of opinion. And the government has definitely valued that,” says Rona.
In 2021 alone, Logistics UK’s lobbying work secured 85 policy wins for members.
One of these revolved around the impact of Brexit on the availability of drivers. The government has not disclosed how many EU workers were lost from the sector, but Logistics UK estimates it was around 35,000. The effects were keenly observed by the public – for example when the shortage of personnel qualified to drive fuel tankers led to supply issues and panic buying at petrol stations.
“We realised that the government wasn't going to do a U-turn on EU workers. So instead, we lobbied for a temporary dispensation to bring some of them back.” The aim was to ease the pressure on the sector while new drivers could be trained.
“We were offered 5,000 temporary visas. Some of our members picked up the scheme and got workers back. They had to go through some bureaucratic hoops, but the point was, we made it accessible.”
Looking to the future
To maintain the talent pipeline, the team explored alternative ways to recruit people into the industry. There is a wealth of opportunities on offer and salaries quoted for some of the more specialist roles rose as a result of market pressure to £50,000 a year. However, the initial technical and practical training required for drivers is expensive, and takes between six months and a year, which can act as a barrier to new entrants.
Though the government recognised the shortage of HGV drivers, existing apprenticeship frameworks and funding were not available for the types of vacancies the industry was experiencing . As part of the government’s Skills Bootcamps programme, Logistics UK worked with government and Manpower to set up opportunities for recruits to receive either full or part-funding, depending on their circumstances, so they can learn the ropes without getting severely into debt.
So far, the scheme has received more than 10,000 applications. The first group has completed the training and are already bolstering the sector’s workforce.
Another initiative to re-educate school leavers and the general workforce about the industry was launched in 2021. Logistics UK encouraged the sector to contribute to the project, and seeing that commitment, the government provided further funds.
The resulting ‘Generation Logistics’ campaign is based around a website covering everything from how to get into the sector to the different roles on offer. Alongside job listings from individual companies, there are case studies featuring people who work for those firms.
“We've gone out and found people who look like the target audiences that we're talking to. So it might be parents coming back into the workforce after maternity or paternity leave, or first jobbers who are now ready for a career, and seeing what the progression could be. It's certainly made the government take notice, we've been mentioned in the House!”
Logistics UK in figures:
•At the end of 2022, Logistics UK reached the milestone of 20,000 members.
•In 2021, the team handled more requests for information than ever before, including 15,000 calls and 69,000 email enquiries.
•Their engineers carry out 30,000 vehicle safety inspections every year, alerting members to any issues and helping them maintain compliance, and keep operating, in a heavily regulated industry.
•In 2021, Logistics UK secured 85 policy wins. By November 2022, they had secured another 70 for their members.
•More than 10,000 applications to join the skills bootcamps.
•Lobbying secured 500 temporary visas to bring EU workers back to the sector.
•Over a billion people saw the organisation’s messaging in 2021.
Relentless member focus
For Rona, alongside tenacity and an unwillingness to say ‘no’, another of the keys to the organisation’s success is that rather than just repeat the previous year’s approach, they have asked themselves: ‘Is that the right way of doing something, or should we modify our behaviour to adapt to the world around us, to what's going on in the industry, to what members need?’
The member relations team are in constant contact with members, so can respond swiftly as issues or concerns develop. Members also contribute their views at quarterly regional council meetings. These ideas then go to the national councils, who form the organisation’s policy. “It means that we are utterly democratic,” says Rona.
“Where I think we have won is because we've been a-political, we've not had an opinion one way or the other, we have represented the opinions of those who are in membership. It's just about making sure that what we're doing is absolutely the best for them.”