Leigh Anderson, managing director at Bis Henderson Recruitment, explains why the ‘new normal’ is generating demand for for senior Human Resource executives within supply chain logistics.
Logistics operators, and distribution and fulfilment functions across retail and manufacturing, are realising that the solutions to most of the challenges they are facing include a significant HR strategy component. Out of necessity, their operational models have flexed and adjusted with the impact of COVID, leaving many businesses with a requirement for people with very different skill sets. Now faced with the challenges of ramping up operations again, sometimes from near-zero to full capacity, and with furloughed staff returning, or perhaps not returning, the emphasis is firmly on people.
New and returning staff will need to be reskilled and re-introduced to operations that may have changed significantly. People strategies will be key, and companies are looking for experienced HR/talent executives who can shape those strategies and then engage the best teams of people to achieve the business objectives.
The massive shift to eCommerce and home delivery is one obvious challenge but as Anderson points out, moving people out of shops and into warehouses is not simple: A retail assistant working in town with hours based around the school run can’t easily change to a twilight shift in a distribution centre out near the motorway. And, with the UK’s long-term shortage of drivers, and both COVID and Brexit impacting on the availability of migrant workers, labour is an increasingly precious resource. A vital task for HR is to find strategies to make employment in logistics and supply chain a compelling proposition, at all levels.
However, there are other major developments affecting HR strategies in the logistics sector. The pandemic has accelerated the uptake of robotics and automation, requiring managers and others to have new technical skills and, more fundamentally, new ways of managing the ‘man-machine interface’’. Employee expectations are also changing around terms and conditions and the ethics of the business they work for.
Importantly, in distribution and fulfilment, HR needs strategies to deal with the emerging case law on the gig economy, while retailers and distributors are increasingly expected to take some responsibility for the practices of their partners and suppliers. These all need strategic responses.
Progressive companies are looking for HR to contribute to individual and organisational resilience, trust and safety, foster creativity and innovation, and manage human-machine partnerships, while HR itself is becoming increasingly data-driven, from identifying skills requirements and gaps to informing diversity programmes.
In the United States, there are now job titles like gig economy facilitator, human-machine teaming manager, workplace environment co-ordinator, strategic HR business continuity director, and climate change response leader. It’s easy to mock – but these do reflect very real strategic issues which HR has to engage with in the logistics arena.
One upshot is that Bis Henderson Recruitment and other recruiters are increasingly sourcing HR talent from outside the traditional logistics industries. We are looking for people who can combine relationship development abilities with analytical skills, who can work collaboratively, and can devise strategies that show a return on human resource investment. We are finding people with these transferable skills not just in retail or in manufacturing, but also in support services and even the public sector.
For, moving up through the gears to supply the logistics function with the strategic HR leadership it is calling out for is now certainly becoming our new normal.