The UK boss of global parcel giant UPS has described how the business is doing its bit to help consumers shop online in the post-Covid world.
The US business has recently opened fully automated 1.2 million sq ft UK air hub at East Midlands Airport, right in the heart of the country.
It can process as many as 22,500 packages an hour, making it the company’s second biggest European air operation after Cologne.
During daylight hours the £138 million warehouse – a maze of conveyor belts and ramps, sorting and moving packages between the airstrip and 22 HGV docking bays – is quiet.
It comes alive at night when six Boeing B767-300F jets drop off and collect that day’s shipments.
Flights come in from Cologne, Edinburgh, Belfast and Philadelphia, bringing parcels destined for the parcel company’s 70-or-so UK centres. From there they are delivered to homes and pick up points up and down the country.
The site mainly handles small packages up to around 80kg with clients ranging from people buying goods online or posting things overseas, to big fashion companies and online retailers sending things to customers in the UK.
During the first lockdown staff said there was a big rise in the number of toys and even toilet rolls being shipped in. Since then the UPS workforce has helped move millions of items of PPE equipment and sent some 600 million vaccines – which will grow to 1 billion by the end of the year – to Europe, North America and a number of developing countries.
In all the north Leicestershire hub at Castle Donington employs 640 people, mainly split between twilight and sunset shifts – operating at night means parcels can be processed and shipped for next day delivery.
The new hub has replaced a much smaller site just up the road, and Jim O’Gara, UPS UK president for the UK, Ireland and the Nordic countries, said despite being more automated there were no jobs lost.
The 58-year-old – who started as a driver with the business 26 years ago – told BusinessLive he particularly wanted the new UK air hub to support small businesses looking for new, cross-border customers.
Attending the official launch of the hub he said: “This is the second largest gateway we have in Europe, second to Cologne, and re-emphasises the confidence we have in the UK economy.
“We have spent a significant amount of money and there are 650 jobs here. We came from a building nearby that was not automated to one that is completely automated and rather than losing people we are training up workers.
“The control room here is something like NASA and the security protocols are state-of-the so that we can screen every single package that goes on our aircraft, to protect not only our people but the public at large.”
Mr O’Gara said the pandemic had accelerated the rise of online shopping, encouraging a new, older generation of shoppers to use the internet to shop, and said UPS was making that easier by launching more drop and collection points in British convenience stores.
He said the business had also streamlined export processes to make it easier for individuals and businesses sending products to and from Europe to deal with new post-Brexit paperwork.
He said: “We’ve almost nine months into the year and are seeing business move at a pace that was more akin to where it was before Brexit.”
Mr O’Gara said the UK HGV driver shortage affecting some businesses had not hit UPS because of its policy of promoting from within and encouraging the workforce to train and move up the ladder.
UPS had global sales of $84.6 billion last year and operates in more than 220 countries, with more than 540,000 employees worldwide.
It launched in Seattle 114 years ago and today has its global headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, with UPS AIrlines based in Louisville, Kentucky.