Thursday, April 7, 2022

Warehousing Interests Gather in Belfast to Study the Market

Jobs, Property and Brexit All Looked at by Experts
Shipping News Feature

UK – The recent Belfast UKWA Warehousing Showcase, held just weeks after the main United Kingdom Warehousing Association conference in Chester, built on the conclusions that had been arrived at there, but with added factors peculiar to the offshore environment.

The evidence produced by Ruth Edwards, Operations Director at Talent in Logistics on Employee Engagement, again alluded to an ageing population, Brexit and poor industry image as barriers to recruitment, with 54% of logistics businesses expecting to see severe worker and skills shortages by 2024, and these were themes that dominated the session.

The data, gathered in a survey of 11,000 forklift operators attempted to understand what attracted workers to an employer and what motivated them to stay, with pay proving less important than factors such as trusted managers, and a decent work/life balance being better thought of than a 5% pay increase. Ruth Edwards observed:

“People create business value, so employee engagement is a massive differentiator in times of change and is essential to future talent pipelines. The cost of recruitment, onboarding and training is high, between £10-30K, depending on job function, so that engaging with employees, ensuring they feel valued, included and motivated simply makes sense!”

A report produced by Model Logistics in collaboration with the UKWA was a timely reminder that showed barriers created by factors such as Brexit, along with changes in supply chains and storage strategy, are driving Irish companies to consider warehousing options on the mainland. Irish delegates heard from Paul Johnson of Model Logistics about the benefits of holding stock closer to customers and the different options available to them.

Sustainability was a major topic and Simon McKeever of the Irish Exporters Association spoke about its increasing importance as a strategic priority but said that the warehousing and logistics industry was ‘behind the curve’. He concluded that drivers for change include the climate crisis, consumer demand, the need for legal compliance, pressure from investors, suppliers and employees, as well as brand reputation.

He added that research indicates that consumers are prepared to pay between 2-10% more for services or goods from ethical companies with prominent ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) credentials. With that, he announced the imminent launch of the Institute of Sustainable Trade, a new initiative by the Irish Exporters Association to support Irish businesses on their journey to sustainability, observing:

“Sustainability encompasses human rights and a decent working environment as well as clean, affordable energy and a commitment to addressing climate change. While economic, social and environmental considerations are key to a sustainable framework for businesses, the challenge is to find the balance between the three.”

A Q&A session focusing on property issues ranged from land values (significantly less in Northern Ireland than in the South or Great Britain) and the impact on size of buildings and rental values, to frustration with planning and ‘land banking’ by big companies, which is pushing prices up. Nigel Healy of JLL said that developers must ‘tick the ESG box’ in order to attract funding, and have a tenant as well as an investor lined up before proceeding, otherwise construction costs go up.

Frazer Hood of McConnells noted that in the North, the planning process was particularly slow moving and routinely took 12 months to two years. Shortage of labour and the importance of proximity to power were seen as challenges common to Ireland and Great Britain, along with extraordinarily low vacancy rates, currently 2-3% and there exists a degree of speculative build with currently more ‘big box’ projects under way than seen before by Nigel Healy.

The discussion ended with a look to the future, and acknowledgement that costs of solar power and EV are coming down. Frazer Hood said that EPV charging points were to be set up across Northern Ireland. Both speakers envisaged building styles changing to accommodate flexible working, with bigger social spaces and higher quality working environments.Nigel Healy concluded:

“The economy is stable and people over here are problem solvers, we are set fair to go forward. We need to understand what occupiers really want, and we thank UKWA for creating an environment where stakeholders can have these conversations.”

The event had been opened by Jarlath Sweeney, Director of Fleet Publications and he was remembered by UKWA CEO Clare Bottle in her closing remarks when she said:

“This is our first event in Ireland, and we will certainly be back again next year. It was great to hear perspectives from a different part of the UK, with everyone enjoying discussions around the different challenges and opportunities, as well as networking with industry colleagues. I’d like to thank Jarlath for the warm welcome we received, and our expert speakers for enabling us to share their knowledge and experience, helping foster closer links with our colleagues in Ireland.”

Photo: Nigel Healy, Frazer Hood and Clare Bottle.