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Supply chains and skills - it's time to take action


Column by Arlen Pettitt, Knowledge Development Manager as published in The Journal (1 March).

We live in strange times.

Consider three bits of news from last week: while the Leader of the Opposition was accused of being a Cold War era informant and a tweet from a reality star was wiping $1.3bn off a tech firm’s stock market value, thousands of tonnes of chicken was stuck in an unregistered storage facility outside Rugby.

I long ago gave up trying to process the bizarre nature of our news in anything remotely approaching a logical fashion – instead, as a type of defence mechanism, I imagine headlines in the voice of Chris Morris’s newsreader from The Day Today and picture him glowering to camera.

But, sometimes it’s worth digging beyond the headlines.

In KFC’s poultry disaster, for example, there was a serious message about supply chain disruption.

Changing just one link in that chain – in this case switching delivery provider – can cause enough chaos to close hundreds of outlets.

It’s experiences like that which give Brexit Secretary David Davis’s claims the nation will not be plunged into a Mad Max-style dystopia after we leave the EU a hint of resonance.

The comparison is overblown, but the risk of disruption is real.

Supply chain problems and border delays are going to impact businesses, as well skills shortages.

Last week the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released figures showing net migration from the EU has fallen substantially since the EU referendum, down 75,000 in the year to September 2017 – although the number of migrants, from the EU and outside, does continue to rise.

The following day the ONS published employment figures showing a slight uptick in national unemployment rate (although the North East bucked that trend with unemployment continuing to fall).

Interestingly, this was coupled with an increase of 70,000 in the number of unfilled vacancies, painting a picture of businesses struggling to find the right person with the right skills for the job.

If supply chains are already unsteady, and skilled roles are already difficult to fill, Brexit – Mad Max-style or otherwise – will only heighten these issues.

On 29th March, the Chamber is hosting the North East Brexit Summit, aimed at providing businesses with practical advice on starting their preparations – assessing the impact Brexit may have on their supply chains, recruitment, finance and customs procedures. More details are on the Chamber website.

With just over a year to go, businesses need to start taking action now.