Xclusive founder David Doolan talks logistics recruitment and parcel delivery trends
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The logistics industry is facing a number of recruitment challenges at this moment in time, whether it be skills shortages in the HGV driving and warehousing sectors, or the difficulty in finding the right candidates with the required skills from a new generation of potential logistics specialists.
Someone who has seen these challenges and other key developments in the sector is David Doolan, founder and MD of logistics recruitment specialists Xclusive. Having come from a logistics background, David set up his recruitment firm back in 2003, and has seen things change significantly both in logistics and recruitment since then.
On top of that, David also works as an advisor for a major price comparison website for parcel delivery services.
Given David’s knowledge and experience in logistics recruitment and parcel delivery, we took the time to quiz the Xclusive founder about recruitment in logistics, what skills logistics employers look for, and what challenges last mile operators are encountering in the face of tough climate targets and new tax rules on the reception of parcels from 3rd-countries.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us David. If I recall rightly from our discussion prior to this interview, one of the motivations you had for setting up your business was a disappointing recruitment experience. Can you perhaps elaborate on that example and explain how you’ve gone about things at Xclusive to ensure the process is altogether different?
I was looking to recruit a business development manager for a team that I ran. I welcomed a recruitment consultant to our office to meet the individual and help him understand what we were looking for.
However, after that, as soon as that meeting had finished, the recruitment consultant approached me as a candidate and tried to tap me up, which quite shocked me. Not only was I going to spend some money with him, he was approaching me as a candidate. I then very quickly realised that not only had I been approached, but my staff as well.
So whilst there are some really good recruiters out there, there are some companies that don’t have integrity.
Although I wasn’t an expert on recruitment at the time, I did have knowledge of what both the candidates and employers are looking for. I handed in my notice the following week and started my new business three months later in June 2003.
We’re experts in the sector, we understand the sector, when our client says they want a role, we either understand or quickly understand what they want.
A good example would be the general manager role, which can mean so many different things to so many different companies.
When a client says they need something, we understand the sector and specialise in logistics to understand the market.
When it comes to new entrants to the logistics sector, how optimistic are you about young people in the UK wanting to become the logistics professionals of the future? On the one hand, recent world events have thrust logistics and supply chain into the spotlight, and there are reports of increased interest in supply chain courses at universities. On the other hand, not all of the press has been good, whether it be stories related to the harsh nature of the HGV driving market or the gig economy in the last mile.
I believe that the industry bodies need to get together, supported financially by the government, to make the sector more attractive. Historically, and currently, I believe most people fall into the sector rather than being attracted to it. They get into it almost by accident, rather than by planning.
So we need to make the industry more attractive and for people to have aspirations to be there. That will ultimately be good for the industry and drive it forward, because it’s a very much technology-based and people-based industry that’s critical to the world and to keep UK PLC working.
We all, as consumers, take it for granted without realising the complex, sophisticated skill sets that are required to make that big logistics machine work. The logistics world is a fantastic industry to work in, and it’s super efficient at what it does. The service it provides for the cost structure is amazing. Unfortunately, people are not aware of this, and it’s only when you understand the industry that you can fall in love with it, and we want to make that happen.
So what we need is an integrated Government backed advertising and networking programme supported by all the Industry Associations and major employers to attract graduates to the logistics sector.
In your experience, what skills are most valued by logistics employers nowadays?
What the industry and individual companies need to be very clear on is what they want, including the skills. The skills need to match the requirements of the role.
If it’s a people-oriented communication role, then the individual graduate or candidate needs to have those people skills.
Some roles are more process or analytically driven and require a different skill set. So you need to be attracting the right people rather than generalising and hoping you get the right people because they’re graduates.
When it comes to criteria for selection, portfolio, or job specification, it should be clear what you’re looking for. But also, when you’re sifting through and analysing potential candidates, you’ve got to invest the time to specialise and get the right people to do the right jobs.
When someone works with you, they spend a lot of time there, and you want to get people to fit with roles that suit their personality and their style, as well as their culture and their aspirations. Some outgoing people can be introverts, some quiet people can be extroverts, so it’s about matching their needs with both the opportunity and the role.
The process of digitalisation means digital tools are being used more than ever before – recruitment is arguably no exception. However, to what extent do you believe there are limitations to using digital data when it comes to matching candidates and employers? Are there aspects that only a trained specialist can sense? Perhaps there are candidates who look excellent on paper and possess both knowledge and talent, but via your discussions, you get the feeling they could be a mismatch for certain vacancies.
We set up back in 2003, which makes us eighteen-and-a-half years old. Like every business, you have to evolve to the marketplace. The needs of the market change, and you need to be aligned to that change.
Digitalisation has changed things; you’ve got the job boards, you’ve got LinkedIn, all those types of things. Where we differentiate ourselves is by giving clients a return on investment, because employing someone is an investment in time, effort and emotion.
You only probably get a return out of someone around nine months to a year. It takes time for them to adapt and get into the business
Likewise, and just important, for the perspective of our candidates, we help them find opportunities that fulfil their career and aspirational goals. Good recruitment no one notices, but bad recruitment is a disaster for everyone – for the candidate and their lifestyle, as well as for the employer.
Digitalization, on paper, makes things efficient and effective. But it’s people’s skills and understanding that’s key – knowing what the candidate is looking for and what opportunity fits them.
Whilst Xclusive use all the latest digital methods to make initial contact with candidates, the key to success is the human interaction and discussion.
Our job is to find high quality candidates for any vacancies we’re working on. And for our candidates to find them high quality opportunities that fulfil their future aspirations.
That sometimes means advising them to stay where they are, because the grass just doesn’t always show the green when you’re going for a new role. Even if there is something that may be really annoying about your current role, in your new company, there may be something that’s not as good as you have now and you haven’t noticed. Life is not a perfect science.
So our job is to understand our clients, our candidates and their aspirations, and how the marketplace is, and where appropriate, match them together.
What are your observations regarding the last mile logistics market in the UK at this moment in time? There has been a lot of discussion regarding the extent to which we’ll see out-of-home growth in the future as costs increase and consumers realise that delivery doesn’t come without its costs. Do you feel that will be the case, or perhaps British consumers are so accustomed to home delivery that the growth of out-of-home will be rather limited?
The UK, like most of the world now, is highly developed in e-commerce and has been for a long time.
In the UK, people pretty early on got comfortable posting things, prepaying for items on cards and so forth, which helped the market to grow quickly to drive the e-commerce opportunities in the country and in Europe.
So people are very used to getting things delivered to their household, and are reasonably flexible about going to PUDO points and using other out-of-home options.
What I think the industry needs to do is make every delivery more efficient, both from a financial cost to serve and a green perspective. That could be with electric vehicles where possible, or drop density. At the same time, the consumer needs to find something convenient and effective for them as well.
So I think where you can get agnostic solutions in the form of parcel lockers or pickup drop off points, or post offices, where you can go to that point and collect any deliveries you’ve got coming from multiple sources, people get used to convenience. That means they have a readily happy habit and are comfortable going somewhere.
That’s great, but if you’ve got different solutions for different points, collections and drop offs, whether that be your consumer dropping something off or returning a package, it’s got to be simple.
So agnostic solutions are the best options for everyone. That means the logistics operators working together to get a solution that could work well for them. Something that’s more effective and efficient for their drop offs and collections, but also for consumer ease of use.
In the UK,for example, you’ve got the Universal Service Obligation by the Royal Mail, which obliges them to deliver to every postcode six days a week. Maybe at some point, it would be worth, certainly at a domestic level, to change that to two or three times a week. That would then change the expectation of getting items delivered to home every day.
That way people might get more used to accepting more consolidated deliveries, which might be easier for the Royal Mail or those going to PUDO points for their deliveries or returns.
Another key area affecting the logistics sector is of course the drive to decarbonise and become more sustainable. We’ve seen the UK Government announce comparatively ambitious targets when it comes to the use of hydrogen and electric vehicles in the future. However, at the same time, there have also been delays and controversy over clean air zones in and around major cities, particularly as some logistics operators have struggled to obtain the public funds needed to upgrade their fleets. Do we need to have a clearer, nationwide level scheme for access to public funds if we are to meet the government’s targets?
You’ve got different hotspots with different zones like London, Oxford, Manchester, Bristol and Bath, where they’re trying to have different zones, and then you’ve got people on the outskirts of it.
This can cause some issues, because you have different rules within quite close areas. In an ideal world, you’d have a national agreement whereby the rules change for everyone, but that would need to be financed by the central government, which it probably can’t afford to do right now because of the financial issues related to COVID, which affects every government around the world.
So I think the best option would be to do it in geographic areas. The natural one to start with would be London and its ecosystem, because it’s a big area. Geographically, it’s got a high density, high population and a keenness to develop and learn from experience of doing things effectively and efficiently.
So you’d replicate what works and eradicate what doesn’t, then you build on that. Once the system works pretty well in London, you can then replicate it in the major conurbations around the country. Depending on e-commerce deliveries, that would probably be the likes of Birmingham, Manchester, perhaps Oxford. Overtime, that will also drive the use of electric vehicles and the subsidies available for their purchase.
Looking at those electric vehicles, on the short haul routes, the infrastructure is not there around the country for charging. If you focus on specific areas, you could maybe improve this.
So while you’re building more electric vehicles, you have low-emission zones that keep the other vehicles out. At the same time you do that, you’ll need to support the infrastructure, which will be a cost to the government. However, by designating sites, they can get return on investment quicker.
When it comes to line-haul vehicles, hydrogen will ultimately be the answer. It’s probably the only way it can work, as the only emissions that come out of these vehicles is water. More and more clients we talk to are going down this route. I think hydrogen could be the answer, the jury is still out on whether electric vehicles are the ultimate solution.
Everyone wants to be greener, everyone’s trying to be greener. The challenge is, people want the green credentials, but at the same time people are cost resistant. So if they can get the green credentials without paying for them, they’ll have that advantage.
Finally, what are your thoughts on the cross-border parcel market in light of Brexit as well as new EU VAT laws on purchases from outside the single market? Both of these measures have obviously added cost and complexity, whether it’s someone in the EU buying an item from Aliexpress or a British person ordering something from an EU seller.
In the UK, we’ve obviously had Brexit and what that has done in relation to taxes and duties. This and other developments are driving up the use of single markets, whether it be within Europe, the UK, or USA.
When you’re purchasing from a single market and get it delivered within that single market, you don’t have any taxes and duties. So there are no surprises either for the person selling or receiving the item.
You could have an issue where you purchase a gift for someone out of kindness, but they receive an item and have to deal with tax and duties, which certainly does limit the positive feeling of receiving an item. This is definitely an issue as it impacts pricing and therefore the purchasing criteria for consumers.
On the back of that, the cross border world is changing dramatically. Cross border operators are setting up in different single markets around the world, or in some cases, ecommerce retailers are setting up European offices that supply Europe or the UK from the UK from the UK or the US from the US.
So everyone’s trying to be in the single market that they’re servicing and where possible, either themselves or through strategic partnerships.