Warehousing has been hit harder than driving by labour shortages, says UKWA CEO

September 30, 2021

Current publicity around the driver shortage in the UK fails to reflect the wider labour shortage being experienced across the logistics sector, in warehousing as well as transport, planning, engineering and more, says UKWA CEO Clare Bottle.

Speaking on BBC News, she commented, “We have fewer workers than we used to have and some of this is down to Brexit. 15% of HGV drivers were EU nationals, but the proportion of Forklift Truck drivers is 34%. If anything, warehousing has been hit harder than driving the by exodus of people from our workforce.”

She adds, “As has been pointed out by others, people in supply-chain have been working in crisis mode for nearly two years, with insufficient resources; they are exhausted, and it is simply not sustainable.

Warehouses cannot operate efficiently unless the receipt and despatch of goods is well controlled.  Driver shortages are making transport operations more fragile and unreliable and this in turn reduces warehouse productivity – and profitability.

Clearly, there is a responsibility upon both the industry and the government to ensure people are aware of the job opportunities in logistics and that there is a more coherent framework of training to address labour shortages and skills gaps.  The interventions on visas and driving tests are welcome, but it is still not clear whether they will work in practice.

Meanwhile, consumer complaints about courier delivery services illustrate the public’s expectation that the logistics industry should provide a perfect service for free.  Warehousing alone is a £20billion element of the UK economy, but nobody wants to pay for it.  Employers in warehousing are resourceful and responsive: we saw this when keyworkers in logistics kept supply-chains going, through disruptive lockdowns.

In response to the labour challenges they face, many members have had no alternative but to introduce significant overnight pay-rises in warehousing (and the same is true in transport).  The 3PL sector does not have big enough profit margins to be able to absorb these increases, so ultimately, they will have to be passed on to customers and thereafter to consumers.  The impact of this is likely to be seen in two ways: firstly, some softening of consumers’ unrealistic expectations in the face of rising costs; and secondly, some inflationary pressures as these costs are passed on.

There is also a risk that irresponsible rhetoric might create panic – already we have seen this manifest itself at petrol stations – and if this happens, it will not be trade associations that cause it, since we are firmly committed to constructive dialogue with government on the delivery of workable solutions.”