James Bielby, FWD Chief Executive

Bielby: Attracting and retaining talent must be a priority for 2023

Attracting and retaining talent must be a priority for wholesale for 2023 in order for the sector to continue to innovate and move forward

Among the highlights of November’s FWD Gold Medals were the awards for individuals who have delivered outstanding service to the wholesale sector over the last year. From telesales stars to exceptional depot managers, and from dedicated drivers to customer service champions, the winners and finalists joining us at Old Billingsgate were the very best representatives of every aspect of the service our members provide.

Entries for the other awards, for companies, products and innovations, are only as good as the people who dream up great ideas and bring them forward efficiently and effectively. The Gold Medals evening is always a reminder that we keep moving forward thanks to the talent we attract into our industry and the investment we put into developing and nurturing good people.

We have to accept that wholesale isn’t an industry that young people instinctively aspire to be part of, but that’s in part because they’ve never considered it. Those who do find their way to us will expect more in return than previous generations – they will want flexibility, and they will expect a pathway to progress from day one.

As digital consumers, they will bring skills that will transform the way we do business, and we would be fools not to tap into that.

Vital assets

Helping our members recruit, retain, develop and reward new talent is one of our key priorities for the year ahead. For young people already within the wholesale channel, we are further expanding the Future Leaders’ Forum, which is designed for ambitious individuals who are 30 or under working within the FWD membership. It’s an opportunity for talent to come to the fore. With extra events added to the programme for 2023 and a fantastic mentoring programme pairing them with more experienced colleagues from across the sector, we’re doing our bit to help these vital assets shape the future they want for wholesale.

Beyond that, we have our Introduction to Wholesale sessions, inviting suppliers who are new in the channel to visit a member’s premises and see first-hand what a busy cash and carry or distribution depot looks like. We give them the big numbers and the information they need to go back to their senior colleagues and explain how and why they should invest in wholesale.

We also provide training grants for individuals to develop skills that will serve the sector well. The. Fellowship Fund is available in match-funded bursaries of up to £2,500 per person, or a maximum of £12,500 for each member company. The fund was set up decades ago for the express purpose of developing new wholesalers, and thanks to the foresight of a previous generation of wholesalers it is there to help the next one.

Working together

The simplest way to ensure a wide talent base is to make sure our industry appeals to everyone. Wholesale can be proud of its record of employing people from minority ethnic backgrounds and its even geographical spread, creating jobs in all parts of the country. But the gender balance is still not quite there, especially at senior levels. We’re throwing our support and assistance behind Women in Wholesale as it expands its face-to-face and online programme in 2023.

Recruiting the best available talent is, inevitably, a competitive advantage for those who are prepared to invest in it. If resources are scarce – and talent, ambition, dedication and drive are hard to find in a single package – there will be the same kind of elbowing for position as we see when there’s low availability of any other product or commodity. But as a collective membership we have to put that aside, with all our members working together to make sure wholesale is recognised as a valuable and rewarding place to work.

The enormous service wholesalers provide to small businesses, remote communities and vital national infrastructure should be a reason in itself to be proud to work in food distribution. Even if that is enough to attract the attention of a wide pool of keen and confident young people, we will have to work hard to retain, reward, incentivise and challenge them – and that is a long-term project that starts here.

Future Leaders Forum FWD column FWD Gold Medals Introduction to Wholesale James Bielby staff Training