Interview with Richard Cowlishaw, Chief People Officer of Clipper Logistics
Businesses regularly talk about people being their best asset.
Similarly, there has been much talk of innovation, agility and thinking outside the box, especially in a post- Covid world. D&I, and making reasonable adjustments for those of differing backgrounds, is at the forefront of mind for many leadership teams. For those organisations where any or all of these statements resonate, the story of Clipper Logistics‘ “Fresh Start“ initiative will be an inspiration.
Established in 1992, Clipper Logistics has become one of the UK’s leading retail logistics specialists, with over 14,000 employees at peak, working across over 55 sites. Helping to keep clients ahead of the retail curve, Clipper has a track record for agility, innovation and an ability to give customers confidence in seizing opportunities, whilst challenging the status quo. Across the board, Clipper strives to support its team members at every level, from providing the best education, to supplying the tools people need to succeed.
As Richard Cowlishaw (Chief People Officer of Clipper) explained, Fresh Start really began 3 years ago in 2018, when Tempus Novo approached the business. Tempus Novo is all about returning ex-offenders to the workplace and wanted to get Clipper on board. Both Richard and one of the local General Managers took a deep breath and took on two ex-offenders. Richard explained that he reasoned with himself that after all he knew what these ex-offenders had actually done. It took no more than two weeks before the General Manager was extolling the virtues of these 2 hires and asking if more such individuals could be recruited. Not surprisingly the message soon spread to other sites and the appetite for similar hires grew across the business. Hence the nucleus of a CSR project was born although not consciously.
“It took no more than two weeks before the General Manager was extolling the virtues of these 2 hires and asking if more such individuals could be recruited.”
The next stage of thinking was: if this had been such a success, what other groups should Clipper be talking to? As Richard started to talk to charities such as Mencap, Age UK, Autism UK and other similar organisations he was made aware that c11m people in the UK are represented by minority charities. Many of these individuals want to work but face barriers when seeking employment. Richard soon realised that here was an opportunity to respond to a commercial need, by opening up a new recruitment channel but also deliver a tangible social purpose.
c11m people in the UK are represented by minority charities. Many of these individuals want to work but face barriers when seeking employment.
All Richard and Clipper now needed was a name for this inspirational project. Somewhere out there is a lady who unwittingly helped solve this dilemma. This lady was stood behind Richard in a coffee shop talking to her friend and at one point in the conversation mentioned how great it would be to be able to make a “Fresh Start”. Hence the initiative found its name.
The next stage was all about embedding the concept in the business. Fresh Start ambassadors were appointed from within the business. HR were the first team in 2018 to go through mental health training. Fresh Start soon became an overnight success within the business. The next group of people to take on the journey were the shareholders. Within the first 2 years, 1,100 employees had been recruited through Fresh Start with an 88% retention rate (where retention rate is defined as longer than 12 months service or in the case of temporary workers to the designated end of a fixed term contract).
Whilst Covid impeded this initiative last year, Clipper have still recruited 1,500 people to date in this manner and there are now ambitious plans to rejuvenate the scheme going forward. This rejuvenation includes engagement with such partners as Leonard Cheshire who have accepted the challenge to recruit up to 10 graduates with disabilities for the Clipper graduate trainee scheme. This specific objective will move the scheme beyond the shop floor.
By working with a variety of partners, Clipper has been able to offer a greater number of people employment opportunities whilst enabling the business to create bespoke labour solutions based on individual client needs. Clipper has also been able to support a broader range of vulnerable people, creating a diverse and inclusive, loyal and longer-serving workforce.
When asked ‘what has been the biggest challenge in achieving all of the above?’ Richard claimed it was “getting the concept out of the scary box”. Richard went back to his point that with ex-offenders, the business knew what they had done and, therefore, these individuals were far less risky than the potential offenders who had yet to be caught.
Clipper has also been able to support a broader range of vulnerable people, creating a diverse and inclusive, loyal and longer-serving workforce.
We asked Richard about the productivity of those recruited through Fresh Start, he responded with one of the many stories. Specifically, he told us about Tim & Joe (who are happy for us to share their story). Both were recruited through Mencap at a time when both had severe challenges regarding communication. They went through Mencap and the Clipper traineeship with the result that their picking skills now enable them to train others. This success so impacted on Tim and Joe’s confidence that at Fresh Start’s first annual conference they went on stage to tell their story and how their experience had changed them, their confidence, and their social lives. Richard commented on the deep emotional impact their story had on the audience.
Another recruit approached Richard at the Christmas party and talked about how working for Clipper since leaving prison had changed his life and how he would now like to drive lorries for the business. Richard talked to the Transport Director and sponsorship has now been arranged for this transition.
As a result of its proven success, Fresh Start has now become a significant arm of Clipper’s recruitment strategy. Most impressive has been the way in which people within Clipper have embraced the programme. Operations at site level are already reaping the rewards of Fresh Start and the work ethic of individuals who have been employed through the initiative is unprecedented.
Moving forward. Clipper looks to increase the number of charity partners they have, and the number of strategic partners they have in place will also continue to increase.
As a result of its proven success, Fresh Start has now become a significant arm of Clipper’s recruitment strategy.
When asked about the reasonable adjustments the business had had to make Richard claimed the biggest was patience. He also talked about working with the charity partners to understand which behavioural adjustments worked for differing cohorts of needs.
The journey continues for Clipper and what an inspiration…
Richard Cowlishaw, CPO of Clipper Logistics, was interviewed by Karen Wilson, CEO of Hoggett Bowers in May 2021.