How technology can help logistics companies attract more foreign workers by improving communication

It’s well publicised that the impact of Covid and Brexit has seen record numbers of UK transport and storage vacancies, as foreign workers have either decided to leave the UK, or been forced to leave by new immigration laws.

One survey has shown that over fifty percent of logistics companies in the UK cite the recruitment of drivers as a barrier to business recovery post-Covid pandemic. 

Prior to the pandemic, in Q2 2020 EU nationals accounted for around 10 per cent of the UK workforce across the wider logistics industry. 

In the same quarter there were 25,000 fewer HGV drivers overall (6.7% reduction year-on-year), with 14.3% fewer EU drivers (a 36.3% drop) and 1.5% (4,000) fewer UK drivers.

Clearly logistics and storage companies now have to work even harder to attract and retain more foreign workers to help fill roles. 

This means they need to carefully consider how they can assist foreign workers who speak English as an additional language (EAL). 

Greater adoption of digital technology to overcome language barriers can improve productivity, reduce mistakes, boost morale and improve relationships.

Issues caused by language barriers

Research shows that language barriers in the workplace contribute to inefficiency, stifle collaboration and lower productivity. 

The ability for a supervisor or co-worker to communicate directly in the foreign worker’s first language will produce less mistakes, improved productivity and better health and safety outcomes, while helping to grow better relationships. 

For foreign workers with EAL they will face challenges within the UK workplace when dealing directly with customers, colleagues and the general public and other road users.

This can lead to foreign HGV drivers feeling even more isolated, both on the road and in terms of being able to communicate with peers at depots.

Improving these interactions will not only cease frustrations felt by employees but also provide greater customer satisfaction and speed of deliveries and collections. 

Additionally research by the UK health and safety executive shows that the 370,000 overseas workers in the transport and logistics industry (7% of the total workforce) may be more at risk because of a range of language related factors. 

The dangers stem from foreign workers’ inability to communicate effectively with other workers and supervisors, particularly in relation to their understanding of risk. 

They are also at greater danger due to limited access to health and safety training, difficulty in understanding what is being offered, along with the failure of employers to verify their work and language skills. 

Clearly there is a need for translation in logistics environments, but this comes with significant costs and is not always quick to implement.

Current translation solutions – the pros and cons

There are various technology-based translation solutions available to overcome language barriers in the workplace, each with its own pros and cons. 

One-way for logistics businesses to overcome language barriers is by using LanguageLine, which offers phone translations services.

However, waiting for a translator to answer the call can take time and come with a hefty cost, neither of which may be practical for many logistics companies. 

Google Translate offers instant translation but there are issues with the effectiveness of the translations. It doesn’t offer a high standard across all languages and it’s often those who speak minority languages that are most impacted by the disconnect. 

Also, Google Translate doesn’t always consider regional dialects and slang. 

There are stand-alone digital translation devices, such as Pocketalk, that can instantly translate 82 languages both in audio and text making it clear for the users what is being asked or said. These standalone devices harness software that allows for greater accuracy and covers more regional differences too. 

These devices improve communication and reduce human interpreter exposure to Covid-19 or higher risk environments. 

Anyone can use these devices, which fosters better inter-team conversations and relationships. Having foreign logistics workers feel part of a team can be a challenge but the ability to chat with colleagues directly is a great facilitator of better rapport. 

It’s also worth considering investing in English lessons for foreign colleagues. This will show them that as a company you want to help them make progress and that it’s important that they have communication skills both for work and for their outside lives. 

No perfect solutions 

Overall, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to language translation in the logistics industry and each company will have different needs. 

At a time when EAL is becoming increasingly common it is hugely encouraging for overseas workers that solutions exist to make their working environment safer, more inclusive and enjoyable. 

Logistics companies that make the most of digital technology will be able to attract and retain more foreign workers by improving communication, which is key for the rest of 2022 and beyond. 

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