Tony Bellott, general manager of John Lewis’ distribution centre in Northampton, said the public perception of the industry needs to change but the expansion potential of the South East Midlands represented a “golden opportunity for growth”.
Speaking at a logistics and supply chain summit organised by the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership, he said: “By working together and hooking up with local institutions, there are fantastic development opportunities to increase what people have in their pockets at the end of the week.
“But we have an ageing workforce and that needs to change. We have to get young people inspired by a role in logistics and get them to see it as a career, not just a job where you shift dusty boxes around dirty warehouses all day.”
The event saw more than 100 business leaders from across the region gather at John Lewis’ Magna Park facility in Milton Keynes to hear from experts from Highways England and the Open University about plans for investment in local rail and road infrastructure to aid the sector’s growth and the importance of the supply chain.
The continued delivery of ‘smart’ motorway technology from J13 to J16 on the M1 will ease traffic congestion while the Oxford to Cambridge expressway, currently under development, will provide drivers with an improved east-west route, shaving up to 45 minutes off typical journey times.
Ideas developed by companies involved in the Northamptonshire Logistics Forum could now be rolled out across the SEMLEP area, with the planned wider partnership now under way.
SEMLEP deputy chief executive Hilary Chipping (pictured) said: “There is an opportunity for greater cross-boundary collaboration. We will continue to do the things that work best at a local level but, when the time is right, we will come together across the south east midlands and the wider Oxford to Cambridge corridor of growth to have a stronger voice when we need to make ourselves heard by government and draw investment into the area.”
The summit also gave delegates an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the £250 million John Lewis depots at Magna Park, which store more than 235,000 products in enough square footage to accommodate 9,198 double decker buses.