At the end of the summer it was tempting to think we were starting to return to normal and that an upward trajectory out of the dark days of the pandemic was inevitable.
So when the problems in our logistics sector suddenly started to manifest in empty supermarket shelves and empty petrol pumps it came as a bit of a shock to most of us. And who knew that CO2 was such a vital component in so many areas of food and packaging production? Every day is surely a school day.
I suppose it was inevitable that the events of the last 18 months, as well as Brexit, would cause some profound shifts in our economy and society and that those changes would only become apparent over time.
There are multiple reasons as to why we find ourselves short of people to drive lorries to deliver the stuff that has become so important to our everyday lives. Brexit and the pandemic have clearly played a part and I firmly believe there has been, and continues to be, an absence of leadership and foresight from Government.
The debacle over vast increases in gas prices, hitting domestic consumers very hard at this time of year, is going to have a significant impact on business and industry. Whilst many Knowsley manufacturing companies hedge their energy prices to mitigate such price increases, there will be a knock-on effect for many others that are not sufficiently large enough. And what will be the outcome – possibly to pass on energy costs to their supply chain or customers.
The Government says that companies need to invest in training and think about future-proofing their workforce. Yes, I agree that industry must also take some responsibility, but there’s a massive challenge in finding the staff.
In Knowsley, and across the Liverpool city region, the logistics sector’s need for staff is constant. It is a real growth area but that growth will slow if enough people cannot be recruited into the industry.
Ask a young what they think a career in logistics might mean, I would imagine there would be a few more blank faces.
We can talk about driving lorries, working in warehouses, driving forklift trucks – but there are many more opportunities than that. Logistics is now a sophisticated, fast-changing industry. Warehouses aren’t just big sheds with shelves. They are so often operated using the latest digital technology.
Great career paths exist but if we want to support the growth of what is one of the fastest-growing business sectors in our region then we have a responsibility to take away that sense of mystery.
I frequently speak to business owners who worry about succession planning. Their eventual retirement relies on bringing new blood into their organisations who can one day take them over, maybe even take ownerships in management buyouts. Without new blood, those businesses are not sustainable.
The extra challenge in that is the fast-changing demand of both the existing workforce and the future one. So many people no longer want to work in the ways they have done in the past. Working more flexibly and from home is now a growing phenomenon.
The current troubles with logistics, with petrol, with food distribution and with the energy market has exposed the real structural problems that exist within our economy. The Government needs to take the lead here so it will be interesting to see what advice, Sir David Lewis, the former chief executive of Tesco, will give the UK government on supply chains as it seeks to get a grip on shortages threatening everything from petrol to Christmas.
Arranging a few extra visas for European lorry drivers isn’t an answer to the problems. It is barely a sticking plaster. The need for a genuine industrial strategy with the emphasis on skills and training has never been more urgent.