Champions Round Table
Logistics and Distribution
Chesterfield is an ideal base for logistics and distribution businesses, being centrally located and having the close links to the M1.
The Borough is home to Markham Vale which is one of the largest commercial park’s in the UK, boasting 200 acres of Prime industrial, distribution and commercial opportunities. Since construction commenced in 2008, Markham Vale has attracted major employers to Chesterfield, including Great Bear Distribution, Andrew Page and Meter Provida.
Ferdinand Bilstein UK, a world leading specialist in the automotive aftermarket, is the latest occupant at Markham Vale, attracted by the site’s proximity to the M1. The firm’s new 224,966 square feet distribution centre will open later this year creating up to 400 new jobs.
Ahead of its official opening, this month’s round table met at the state-of-the-art Ferdinand Bilstein site to discuss Chesterfield’s strengths as a base for logistics and distribution.
Organised by Destination chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times, this month the round table panel discussed how Chesterfield’s central UK location could be further maximised to enable it to attract more employers to the area.
SD: Scott Davis – Stock Controller, Global Brands
PD: Paul Dodgson – Operations Director, Ferdinand Bilstein UK
VS: Vascos Santos – Control Room Manager, Ferdinand Bilstein UK
IB: Ian Bates – Sector Forum and Representation Manager, East Midlands Chamber of Commerce
What are the strengths of the area as a base for logistics and distribution companies?
PD: For a while there has been a trend of people moving out of the South and into the North, attracted by the cheaper land prices and available workforce.
SD: A key strength has to be the local workforce. Global Brands is a very family-orientated business, so a lot of our workforce are relatives or friends of each other, which is something we don’t get at our other sites in the UK. We operate 6.00am to 4.00pm, with no shifts and no weekends which, I think, is one of the reasons why we have staff that stay with us for such a long time.
PD: Access to significant workforce was a key reason we chose to locate to Markham Vale. Chesterfield Sheffield, and even Nottingham are within easy reach and offered us the largest local population from which to draw a workforce.
For us, another key strengths of Chesterfield was its proximity to the M1 and the speed at which we could get planning permission and build. The only other location that would have been suitable was in Dartford however it is not the best place for attracting employees.
A lot of our customers are smaller businesses who are less willing to invest in stock. We need to be centrally located so that we can deliver stock quickly. Markham Vale, being so close to the M1, gave us the opportunity to do that. We can reach around 85% of our customers in under four hours from here, whereas in Kent, we can reach only 35% of our customers in that time frame,
The other deciding factor to relocate here was the ability to get planning permission quickly. We got it in six weeks.
How easy is it to attract workforce?
IB: A lot of businesses in the distribution sector have problems trying to recruit people, especially drivers. From the Chamber’s research, around 50% of businesses in the sector say they have looked to recruit in the last three months so it is high on the Chamber’s agenda as we know it can be a barrier to growth.
There are a lot of different types of job roles within the logistics and distributions sector. Recruiting drivers can be problematic because of age restrictions and the qualifications needed.
Young people tend to perceive the industry as being for lower skilled people. We go into schools with organisations to talk to young people and inform them of the opportunities within the sector. If you start doing that early, it can have an effect and can start to provide a pipeline of talent.
SD: We have never had those problems. We see a lot of young people coming through the ranks and staying with the business for quite some time. A round 30% of our workforce have been with us for over five years.
PD: We will start to look at apprentice recruitment after a year or so after getting going. Once we are established here, we will then have the time to spend with apprentices and be able to nurture them.
DS: It is important to inform young people in schools about distribution and logistics businesses and what they do and the roles available. All they see when they drive past is just a big metal box by the side of the road.
IB: Lack of public transport links to new industrial parks can create an issue with recruitment, particularly of young people who don’t have their own transport.
SD: We get a lot of people using us as a stepping stone, to maybe move out of Chesterfield and even out of the UK in some cases.
SD: People are quite adaptable in the Global Brands workforce. We get a lot of people starting in the warehouse who then move into different areas of the business. Many of our warehouse employees will help with recruitment campaigns. We have trouble recruiting at times, but that’s mainly when we’re asking for a specific skill set.
VS: We plan to change the daily jobs that people are doing constantly. We want to build the workforce so that it’s flexible and multi-skilled.
PD: We have 120 jobs to fill ahead of opening later this year. A lot of the roles will be picking and packing jobs. On the top of that, we are also recruiting six highly-skilled on-site engineers on site, a sales support team, HR, a finance team and 12 people in quality checking. We do most of our recruitment through an agency in Chesterfield, however, word of mouth is a very powerful recruitment tool for us.
VS: We are having an open day in September for prospective employees and a car rally here before then, so the cars will all still be here on the open day.
What external forces are having an effect on the logistics and distribution industry?
PD: The greater use of automation in the industry is definitely helping us attract staff as there is no manual lifting involved in the job anymore. All of the desks are electronic and can be set at the user’s height. The picking station is also organised so that everything is set at the right height too.
SD: The drive by the government to phase out diesel engines is a major concern for us. It’s very high on our agenda. We’ve got people keeping a close eye on the changes that are happening but we are still unsure.
PD: I think that the people looking at the policy don’t know what they’re talking about. I have a diesel car and it takes AdBlue, which means the emissions from it are really, really low. It’s the old diesel cars that are a problem and, eventually, they will be phased out as they get older.