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The logistics industry needs to learn lessons from construction and target its recruitment drive on black and ethnic minorities (BAME) if it is to find the 1.2 million new recruits it needs, according to Ian Nichol, head of logistics and lead on Think Logistics and Think Build projects at Career Ready UK.

Formed in 2002, Career Ready is a UK-wide charity linking employers with schools and colleges to open up the world of work to young people. It is working with the employer-led Think Logistics project to run workshops in secondary schools informing students of the many career opportunities in the £2bn a year logistics sector, and Nichol acknowledged that more needs to be done to convince BAME youngsters that they are welcome and wanted.

He said that Think Logistics could learn lessons from Think Build, a similar scheme set up in the construction sector, where 70% of the 120 students on the programme are from BAME groups. “We need to be more upfront about this and when we are talking to colleges about running Think Logistics workshops we need to get more young women and BAME students involved,” he said. “We need a more diverse student group to attend, not just white boys. It is not a success from my point of view if we have 30 youngsters and there no one from a minority ethnic community.”

According to Nichol that is because Think Build has chosen to target towns and cities where the BAME populations are a higher percentage than other parts of the country.

“There is an irony here because Think Build was set up after two representatives from the construction industry saw the success of Think Logistics in engaging with young people in school and colleges,” Nichol said. “It is about geography to an extent as we have two Think Build centres in London and one in Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff. In London and Birmingham in particular are focusing on schools and colleges in city centre locations and they have a preponderance of BAME students.

“That is why we have that 70% figure, which is pretty stunning.”

The construction industry arguably has more demand for staff in large cities than logistics, which tends to be based in out of town locations with a bias towards the ‘golden triangle’ bounded by the M1, M6 and M42.

“It’s not that Think Logistics is not working with BAME groups,” said Nichol. “Next week we are running an event in Wakefield with DHL and in West Yorkshire there are significant numbers of youngsters from Asian heritage communities.

“We are running workshops in places like Liverpool, Wakefield, Warrington, Leicester, Bristol and Birmingham where there are diverse populations.

“But the steer we are getting from employers is that the East Midlands is where we need to be, and here there are far fewer BAME communities.”

The out of town locations favoured by logistics raises the question of whether potential employers should arrange transport from city centres for BAME young people who do not have access to public or private transport.

“An issue we have faced with internships in the summer is that a lot of distribution centres are outside town and city centres and there are challenges for students to get there,” Nichol said. “If there were half a dozen students could you bus them in, but that adds cost and operators’ margins are already very tight.

“The problem is that fewer young people now have part-time jobs so they don’t have access to the work environment or an income to pay for driving lessons.”

Another lesson Nichol believes logistics could learn from construction is to hold open days where schools and colleges can bring parties of students on site to see for themselves what a job in the industry involves.

Build UK has launched Open Doors, an initiative to get employers to open up construction sites, and the most recent Open Doors event saw over 3,000 bookings across more than 130 construction sites in England, Scotland and Wales.

“This gives an insight into modern construction and the host of careers available and challenge some of the stereotypes,” said Nichol. “Think Logistics arranged a visit by West Derby School students to a modern Travis Perkins DC on the M62 and they were gob-smacked by the technology.

“We are hiding our light under the proverbial bushel. Technology is absolutely key to hook young people. The industry has to be much more proactive.

“It will be on the agenda for the next Think Logistics steering group meeting in July and we may find many good examples of what employers are already doing and we need to tap into that intelligence.”