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Addressing talent shortage in warehousing and supply chains

MHD talks to uTenant’s Dave Jenkins about common challenges in warehouse and supply chain recruitment – and what can be done about them.

Dave Jenkins, General Manager at uTenant, says that the COVID-19 pandemic of last year caused a scarcity of labour across the warehousing and supply chain sector.

“In normal times you’d often have international workers come to Australia who might work blue-collar jobs for 20 hours a week or so to make ends meet while they spent the rest of their time enjoying the country,” Dave says. “This allowed for a certain flexibility in the talent pool. This is important because operations don’t need the same numbers of workers all the time – it flexes with demand.”

The past year and a half has created a “perfect storm” of challenges in terms of labour management, Dave says.

“It has been difficult enough for businesses to accurately forecast their operational requirements, let alone their workforce planning,” he says. “Pre-COVID if there was an abundance of product coming in that needed processing you could call in extra sets of hands, and you would pay these workers the standard industry award rate. Now because of the scarcity of labour, businesses have to pay more to entice people to work. There’s not only a struggle to get labour, but labour is more expensive, too.”

Dave says that around March and April of last year, global business uncertainty necessitated many firms putting a freeze on recruitment for permanent positions. “That left a lot of supply chain managers in an additionally difficult spot,” he says. “Because if you were a supply chain manager and your warehouse manager resigned, then either you or somebody else would be pulled in to do that work and stop the bleeding in that area. And that stretched a lot of supply chain professionals quite thin. They had to rely more on temporary solutions and hires rather than hiring for permanent positions – getting the job done but not fixing the underlying problem.”

As the vaccination program rolls out, Dave says that a certain equilibrium will be restored in terms of the supply and demand of labour. Although, at the moment the demand for logistics and warehouse managers is outstripping their supply, he says. “All the talent is being snapped up very quickly.”

But putting COVID-conditions aside, what can be done to ensure a steady pool of warehouse and supply chain talent going forward?

Part of the answer, Dave says, is to entice younger people in with a strong plan for their development and a clear sense of career trajectory.

“Young people want to constantly develop and learn on the job, but they also want to know what their professional life will look like in five or 10 years’ time,” he says. “This is particularly important if you want to attract the best talent from overseas. Casual work for young people in blue collar jobs is one thing, but if you want to attract the best talent for the long term then you need to give younger people a sense of the bigger picture. Supply chain and logistics is a truly global enterprise, and you want the best talent, but you need to give talent a good reason to make the decision to relocate internationally. That means firms should really focus on having career development plans in place.”

Dave says that university graduates often want to jump right into office jobs and avoid the less glamorous roles, such as driving trucks, even though drivers are paid well. Part of the solution, he says, is to clearly segment career progression to management so that roles that are perceived as lower level are seen as a step on a ladder to something higher.

Prior to working at uTenant, Dave spent many years in recruitment for the industrial and logistics space. What qualities are firms looking for in the new generation of supply chain and warehouse professionals?

“It’s obviously a case-by-case basis and very business dependent,” he says. “Maybe 50 per cent of the time recruiters will be looking simply for people of a similar or even identical profile to plug in right now to get a job done or keep things going. But because things are always changing, you might be hired for one purpose and then the problem or task will change – and you need to change with it. So, it’s really important to be agile and adaptive. Yes, you do want to have a special or unique skill set and not simply be a jack-of-all-trades. But you don’t want to be so inflexible that you can become redundant. The ability to think laterally, adapt to new conditions – that’s key. Because as businesses grow and change, they want talent that will grow and change with them.”

For more on uTenant, click here

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