Industry united by Generation Logistics campaign to woo talent, says Logistics UK President Phil Roe

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Earlier this year, following talks between Logistics UK and the Department of Transport, the Generation Logistics campaign was launched as a means of attracting young talent to the various opportunities the sector offers.

The campaign has only had just over a month of fully-fledged operation, but has already harnessed multiple social media platforms to get its message across. More industry sponsors have come onboard, and physical events are also taking place under the campaign to attract new blood on a grass-roots level.

One of those heavily involved in Generation Logistics is Phil Roe, President of Logistics UK and board member of CILT (Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the UK). Having spent 18 years working in different senior roles for DHL, including as CCO and COO, Phil is all-too-aware of the opportunities the logistics sector can provide.

Keen to learn how Generation Logistics was formed and how the initiative shall lure new entrants to the sector, we reached out to Phil himself – quizzing the Logistics UK President on Generation Logistics’ social media approach as well as its desire to debunk negative industry myths.

Thanks for talking to us Phil. First and foremost – what is the ultimate goal of Generation Logistics, and how will you be able to determine whether the project has been successful?

The original idea for Generation Logistics actually came about from a discussion between David Wells, chief executive of Logistics UK, and Grant Shapps [former UK Transport Secretary] just over a year ago now.

The discussion touched on what the logistics industry in general had done to try and attract people to come and work in the sector. Whilst many of the individual companies within the sector have done quite a lot, actually, there hasn’t really been a concerted effort.

I think the events of the pandemic and everything we’ve been through over the last three or four years have heightened the awareness of the country at large to logistics. It’s one of those industries that was a bit forgotten because it underpins every part of the economy.

We haven’t quite put our best foot forward to explain to people the amazing range of opportunities, jobs and careers that exist within the logistics industry. So the idea was to do something really collaborative across the industry to bring that message out in a clearer way than we’ve ever done before.

In terms of measuring progress and success, this is an awareness campaign primarily. There’s two or three areas that we shall measure ourselves against.

The first thing is that we want more people to be aware of the choices and options in the logistics sector. So our most important KPI is actually the curiosity that we create among people through our social media campaigns, and how many come and visit our website to learn more about the logistics industry. In our first year, we’re setting out to reach 600,000 people.

That’s a pretty big number really. We want more people to be aware of the opportunities of working in logistics, and to feel a bit more positive about it than they are at the moment.

If you ask people, as we have done in our research, what do you think about working in logistics? I think around 12% said they were already looking at it. About another 12% said they’d looked at it and it wasn’t for them. But the overwhelming majority, 76%, said they didn’t really understand it well enough to make a choice either way.

So we want to tackle that. There’s so many amazing things that you can do but we haven’t really told people about it up to now.

According to the Generation Logistics Benchmarking Research 2022, 30% of respondents used the word 'boring’ to describe logistics. What needs to be done to change negative perceptions such as these? Is it the case that logistics is only ever boring when things work as they should?

There’s two things in one for that. I love it when it works, and It’s never boring. Of course, everything gets covered when it goes wrong. I think that’s just a fact of modern day life really, isn’t it? I really think that’s down to a lack of knowledge and understanding.

People don’t think it’s boring when their e-commerce delivery turns up. They don’t think it’s boring when the shops are full of the items that they want to buy. They don’t think it’s boring when their pharmacy is superbly well stocked and they can get what they need to maintain their health care or go and socialise in whichever way they want to do as the things they need for that are available.

The truth of logistics is it makes life happen. A lot of the time it’s easy to take that for granted. Logistics is fundamental to making life enjoyable and keeping industry moving.

For some people, that’s going to be boring. However, actually, there’s so many different ways that you can work and express yourself in the industry. We’re hoping that by having real people talking about real roles with a real passion for what they do, and what they get out of it and the purpose behind it, that will start to tackle that 30%.

The research also showed that the logistics sector has a better appeal among those keen to make a career switch. To what extent is this group a key target for the Generation Logistics campaign?

Very much so, there’s a lot of new potential there. Most career changers are probably a little bit older than our target audience of 16 to 20 year olds. Most career changers are probably 25-35, perhaps a little older in some cases.

It’s very interesting to see the differences between those demographics. We are targeting people that want to make a change as well as young people, who are the future of course. We don’t want to wait until people are 25 to engage with them.

We need to engage both younger and earlier as well as older and later. It’s all part of putting the message out about the opportunities in the sector.

Another noteworthy observation from the research is the high percentage of people prioritising work-life balance when choosing a job. There are some vital roles in the industry that arguably are not attractive from this perspective. If we think about the lorry driving profession for example, what can hauliers in the country do to provide a better work-life balance to both existing and prospective drivers?

I think there’s a lot of availability of alternative working patterns that people actually just don’t know anything about. There’s some things we’re trying to myth bust about logistics.

When some people think of driving, for example, yes it’s critical. It’s not the whole story though. Some people may think of drivers continually working away and sleeping in their cabs.

There are a lot of people that sleep in cabs, but it’s not anywhere near even the majority of people that do drive for a living. So that’s a bit of a caricature that can be overplayed. Even going back to when I was running distribution centres 20 years ago, employers were putting on family-friendly shifts. We had special shift patterns that would fit working mums.

As a matter of fact, we’ve just put out a social media ad about flexibility. It talks about different options, what that flexibility might be, how long you work, but also what days you may work.

A lot of people like working less days than a full week. I think there’s a lot of companies in logistics doing their bit to make their offer more flexible, and more attractive to a greater demographic. We’re going to continue this as an industry because it’s about life, isn’t it? It’s about making life work not only from a career point of view, but also from a financial and family perspective too.

We had a session yesterday with four of our big sponsors that involved young managers talking about what the future holds and what they might want to be doing with their lives. The issue of balance, but also ambition, was always there. So we’ve got to give those options for people going forward.

Going back to driving, perhaps there will have to be a little more flexibility than there has been in the past. That said, this is in the process of happening and I think we’ve already started to see some evidence of that.

Generation Logistics has almost all of the major UK logistics industry bodies as partners, while many well known logistics companies are also onboard as sponsors. To what extent is the campaign bringing the industry together? Also, how much of a contribution are these partners making towards the campaign, not just in the form of funding, but having staff out in the field reaching out to people at a grassroots level?

Yes, absolutely. This has been one of the real highlights of Generation Logistics.

We came to an agreement with the DfT that we would do Generation Logistics back in the week of Easter earlier this year. There were also four or five companies that had worked on the idea and had been with us all the way. The trade bodies came onboard quickly too.

The RHA were the first to sign up to the campaign, closely followed by UKWA and a whole host of others. The campaign is of course being run as collaboration between Logistics UK and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. It’s rather fitting, therefore, that this collaborative program is run as a collaboration in the first place by the boards of both those organisations.

Once we started to bring sponsors on board, they also offered more than just funding. While sponsoring something is brilliant, it’s actually the enthusiasm, bringing people forward, case studies and having real people talking about real jobs, that we have valued from sponsors so much.

The material comes from the sponsors, while we have the creative mind of Ilk [media agency] supporting us as well. A lot of the enthusiasm comes from there on the ground.

Our first nine gold sponsors are on our steering team. They control the pattern and the direction and they review our performance in running that program as well alongside the DfT. So there’s no doubt Generation Logistics is bringing the industry together for a common cause.

In the short time the project has been active, what are those involved learning about generation z and how logistics recruiters can best lure young talent?

We’re learning as we go along and we’ve really just had our first full month of operation. In that first month, over 40,000 people have been curious enough to come to the website. We’re definitely not there yet, but we’re on the right path.

What are we learning? Well, the first thing we learned is that when people think about what they want to do with their careers, and with their jobs, they basically go to three places. Friends and family, social media and online services like job boards, and careers advice, a lot of which comes from schools and colleges.

What we had not created previously was a very social media heavy campaign that was targeted at people who didn’t work in logistics. The logistics industry is very good at talking to itself; you can often see case studies and all sorts of messages. But we’ve not been reaching out to people that weren’t even sure what Logistics is.

To do that, you have to use different language and different mediums in order to get through to people. The reason why we went with Ilk was because we felt they were very young in their outlook. Most of the team are pretty young as well and they worked with us to demystify the language of logistics, thereby talking more clearly and in a more straightforward, engaging manner.

The material that we’re creating, particularly from the sponsors, is intended to create social media hooks and curiosity. We use all sorts of different platforms to do that. Particularly for younger people, what’s proven to have worked really well is Snapchat, Instagram and Tik Tok.

We’re learning that values matter, and that the purpose of doing something matters. We want to get that message across. People are people, and people like a bit of fun on social media, but they also respond to things that make them curious. I think you need to maintain the balance, so, there have been a few witty posts and videos we’ve done amid more serious ones. For example, I remember the video we did with Lisa asking people if they knew what the word logistics meant. That was a bit more lighthearted.

For that friends and family influencer group we maintain our presence through Facebook and LinkedIn, because that friends and family group is generally a bit older and will tend to use different social media.

In addition to that, we’ve just approved a plan to establish how to move into education and start engaging with educators about bringing our materials and those messages into schools as well.

We do have a bit of humility with this though, we need to learn as we go. Our approach is guided by the understanding of where people look.

Your colleague David Wells has pointed out that the logistics industry has paid £700m into the Apprenticeship Levy and drawn out just £150m. From what I understand, there is work going on to see how the use of the Apprenticeship Levy could be improved and that Generation Logistics can have a role to play here. Could you please elaborate on this and explain what improvements you’d like to see implemented?

Well, before I answer that in more detail, it’s important to stress there’s roots into logistics careers whether they’re people with degrees, coming straight from school or going into apprenticeship schemes. One of the wonderful things about logistics is that there’s opportunities for everybody at different levels of academic attainment.

If I look at the senior leaders that I’ve worked with over my career, many of them started on the shop floor, and many of them came out from university too. Some of them had come through in-company training schemes as well.

There is a pretty good meritocracy within logistics. I often use the example of a guy who started on the shop floor when I was at DHL, and ended up running our business units overseas. This is something that happens across the industry.

So there’s plenty of scope for people to learn and progress, and I think the apprenticeship scheme is fantastic. Now it has been relaunched, I just think we need to use it better. There’s a lot of consultation going on with the government at the moment about how we could work together on this.

One of the things I think we’ve got to look at is that a lot of jobs in logistics, particularly starting roles, need entry level qualifications in order to do them at all. That doesn’t necessarily fit with a pattern of day release over 12 months. So we need to think a bit more flexibly about how the apprenticeship route can be made to work for more roles.

I’m hopeful that that will materialise because actually, I think it’s a really good route. You only need to look at some of our sponsors who do really fantastic degree apprenticeship programs for people. They’ve worked really well and I’ve mentored a few of those people myself.

It’s a brilliant way for people who don’t necessarily want to take on the debt burden from university. So yes, we need to extend it and focus it a bit more on level two and level three environments particularly. I think there’s probably a bit too much at high levels.