Parcelforce has spent over a decade collecting exam papers from schools and colleges, delivering them to markers across the country – on average our driver’s handle 41 million individual papers each year.
The International Hub : Delivering far and wide
Whether you’re sending a package globally or having something delivered to your door from overseas, chances are that it will go via the Import or Export team of the International Hub in Coventry, where it will be sorted and screened by our brilliant team of Parcelforce Worldwide professionals. These hardworking folks are busy processing 4 million imports and 5 million exports every year. They’re the whole package.
No two days are the same in the International Hub, whether that’s directing packages to all four corners of the globe or trying to work out what to do when someone posts a box of live poisonous spiders. (Yes, that has really happened.)
Shifts run around the clock and are accompanied by a 70-strong complement from UK Border Force team who run an x-ray screening operation. Security and safety are top priority.
Meet the team
We talked to three key members of the International Hub: Stuart Matthews (Senior International Shift Manager), Lorraine Rolfe (Senior Shift Manager) and Tom Perkins (International Hub Manager) to get to know the people behind the parcels and to discover how they deliver every day.
As Senior Shift Manager, Stuart is responsible for hitting a wide range of targets, from quality of service to productivity. He identifies what’s working well and what improvements need making.
Lorraine looks after the Export shift. She’s something of a trouble shooter - getting more involved when issues need to be escalated or solutions required when the day-to-day process is experiencing difficulties.
Finally, Tom’s role as the International Hub Manager gives him broad responsibility for all aspects of the site, which includes safety, quality, people and cost.
The joy of the job
With tens of thousands of parcels going in and out of the International Hub every day, this is no sedentary desk job. Lorraine actually relishes the challenge: “I get a lot of satisfaction when, despite the hurdles we have encountered during a difficult shift, the staff and managers have displayed a fighting spirit and endeavoured to fulfil the customer’s expectation.”
Tom and Stuart, meanwhile, seem to enjoy the variety. Stuart loves working with different functions of the business to always improve the service. Tom agrees: “Every day is different and there are always opportunities to improve the way we work. I also get to work with a good group of colleagues who are passionate about working for Parcelforce Worldwide.”
All three seem to champion a positive, hands-on attitude. Tom sums it up nicely: “Working in the parcel industry and in operations specifically seems to be in the blood of many people I work with and I enjoy the ‘get it done’ mentality.”
The ideal candidate
There are some qualities that are essential for anyone wanting to join the International Hub team. All three agree that flexibility and a positive attitude are key. As Import and Export sections both have complex elements to master, Tom talks about the importance of being “multi-skilled” and “being adept at picking tasks up quickly.”
As for management positions, Stuart stresses the importance of keeping people safe. “It’s key to promote a positive attitude to health and safety issues amongst the shift team. You need excellent people management skills to achieve a smooth process.”
Despite clear guidelines for what can be posted (see here for more), the team still have some fascinating stories about unexpected items appearing at the Hub. When asked about the strangest, everybody has a great answer. “A canoe” says Stuart. “Human remains” chips in Lorraine. “Or ashes to you and me – which we can’t export”
Tom is determined to outdo them all. “Someone once posted a box of poisonous spiders - illegally. We managed to get a local pet shop to take them off our hands and then had to arrange for the trailer to be fumigated by a specialist company in case one of the spiders had escaped. Pretty hair-raising stuff.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Rising to the challenge, Stuart recalls an unforgettable false alarm. “We once had a damaged parcel with smoke pouring out of it” he begins. “Obviously, the alarm was raised. Turns out that someone had sent some cartons of ice-cream from Portugal and had tried to keep them cool with dry ice – and that’s what was leaking out.” Fortunately, there was no ticking noise.
Working together to deliver a great service
The International Hub has an Import and Export section, both are very different in their set-up but the overall objective is the same: to deliver a great service to customers. The International Hub has an experienced staff helped by service managers who review daily shift performance to make sure everything runs smoothly.
The focus seems to be on working together and being adaptable. As Lorraine points out: “We move teams between different areas of the operation depending on which products and destinations are experiencing high volume of posting. By being flexible in this way, we can adapt to keep everything running smoothly.”
Such a busy operation will inevitably experience challenges, from severe weather conditions to sorter breakdowns, but this is all part of the job. Tom takes a philosophical attitude: “Every day there are challenges and, as the site manager, these can be very diverse. As a Hub manager you need a lot of resilience as the shifts pretty much work 24/7, so you need to be able to spin a lot of plates at the same time.”
The international dimension
As expected, the largest volumes of packages are exported to, and are imported from, the likes of USA, China and Australia.
Covering over 242 countries and territories, the staff are never surprised by the destinations that come up on a day-to-day basis. But there are some interesting trends that highlight the curiosities of global trade. For example, a large quantity of trainers are imported from Germany, whereas there seems to be a Chinese demand for milk powder, children’s car seats and vitamins from the UK. Meanwhile, parcels from India mainly involve spices and food.
Tom loves to see the whole world coming and going through Coventry. “Working at the International Hub is a really good way to broaden your geographical knowledge of countries around the world” he enthuses. “It makes you realise how small the world is.”
As we have three package professionals to hand, we ask them about how we can make their jobs easier when we pack up our parcels.
Lorraine focuses on labels: “Address labels should be for addresses only. Any other information should be placed on the opposite side of the parcel to the Parcelforce Worldwide label.”
They all bring up how important to make sure that packaging is sturdy and secure. Tom explains why this is so important: “Many of the parcels we process are travelling thousands of miles around the world and can be handled multiple times. Whilst we try to handle parcels with as much care as possible, if a customer uses a flimsy box with a single strip of tape to seal it then it increases the chances of problems further down the line.”
Heavy parcels containing metal objects need to have packaging inside to ensure the metal objects will not damage the packaging from the inside or protrude whilst it is on its journey through the Hub’s sorter up and down chutes.
“Ensure packaging is robust” Stuart agrees. “Probably steer clear of dry ice too!”
(For more packaging tips, consult our packaging guidelines here.)
A Package’s Progress in 5 steps
With online shopping now such a normal part of our everyday lives, it’s easy to take it for granted. Ever wondered how your parcels travel into and out of the International Hub? Follow along with our simplified step-by-step guide:
- Packages arrive via land, sea or air to the International Hub and are processed by priority order, i.e. 24/48 hours. Packages put in date order onto in-feed carousel.
- Once on the carousel, each package gets an International Import Gateway label.
- Packages are scanned to show that they’ve arrived at the Hub.
- EU packages will go straight onto the out-feed carousel to be checked by the UK Border Force. Non-EU packages will go via customs.
- Packages go to the National Hub, are sorted by their label identifiers (such as postcode) and put into different chutes to be delivered to local depots.
- Packages arrive from national depots and are loaded onto 12 in-feeders.
- The in-feeders go onto a main sorter where they are sorted by transportation type, i.e. road or air.
- Packages which go by air are screened in a secure area by aviation-trained staff. This area is like an “airport for packages.”
- The packages are x-rayed and their seal is checked to make sure contents are secure.
- Packages leave International Hub for export.
Now we’ve met the team, it’s time to find out what services there are on offer to help you get your packages to where they need to go. The International Hub offers reliable international delivery tailored to local conditions, meaning you enjoy an unbeatable choice of speed and value. We go almost everywhere, through trusted delivery partners with expert knowledge. For the latest prices please visit our international page here.
If you’re ready to begin your journey with our International Hub’s team of experts or are just looking for more information, see below for the next steps:
To find out more about our international services, please visit here.