The road freight transport sector is finding it difficult to recruit the new drivers that it urgently needs, says Phill Brooks, General Manager of Farrall’s Transport. Having cut its cloth during recession, the industry must meet greater demand for more loads to be moved during the current economic growth or the consequence will be felt across all industries.
The shortage of lorry drivers in the UK threatens to impede UK economic growth. There are too few drivers to move the growing levels of freight generated by the current growth in the UK’s economy. Given that 60 per cent of all freight is moved by road, the consequence of the shortage will be felt throughout the economy, with late deliveries as well as higher costs. This does not sit comfortably with today’s multichannel driven demand for more frequent deliveries, shorter leadtimes and greater value for the customer.
The lid placed on the driver shortage problem during the recession was well and truly removed by the UK’s accelerating economy. Many organisations in our sector have seen 25 per cent growth since Easter and vehicles that were previously parked-up are now employed during the days and the nights to support this growth. Come October and November there will be a lot of traffic on the roads delivering all of that freight. With operators struggling to find somebody to sit behind the wheel now, it leads one to ask: who will be able to move the further growth, which is forecast beyond the end of the year?
Anecdotally, we hear similar concerns from other operators and trade bodies in our sector. Estimates suggest that some 149,000 new drivers will be needed over a 10-year period leading up to 2020, just for our industry to sustain current levels of activity, let alone growth.
We have placed adverts on job boards in the usual places but the quality of applicant coming through is generally pretty awful. Some operators are turning to agency drivers, others are recruiting on the continent, with Iberia joining eastern Europe as a potential pool of drivers. Casting the net out this far can make it harder to find quality drivers and it is inevitable that costs will rise with demand. Is this the road to sustainable development of a workforce in our sector?
Like UK drivers, those from other EU countries will need to have completed their Driver CPC training by the 10 September deadline. It is suggested that the driver shortage will knock clearly on the door of the supply chain sector after this date, though it remains to be seen how many drivers will not complete the requisite training in time or have decided to retire prematurely or leave the sector rather than go through the DCPC process.
In addition to dealing with the immediate problem we should also sow seeds for the longer term. The overwhelming fact that our industry should confront is that we are much older than the business sector average in the UK – some 13 per cent of drivers are 60 and over – and there is not enough new blood to replace those seeking to retire in the coming five years.
Attracting young people and making them aware of the opportunities in our industry is a challenge. How many school leavers list driving among their first aspirations? Skills for Logistics have done a lot of work to attract, develop and support people in the industry. It is important to show a career progression where, by entering the logistics sector as a driver, you can build a great career. Farrall’s has set up links with local schools to help highlight the logistics industry as a viable option. We would encourage others to do the same.
In the past, the eagerness of 17 year olds to drive propelled them to immediately get a driving licence. This opened the door to a Class 2 (Category C) licence allowing them to drive rigid vehicles, and then a Class 1 (Category C+E) allowing them to drive articulated HGVs. Today’s 17 year olds are just as eager to drive but are faced with a greater wall of expense, particularly due to insurance, which is holding back their step onto the career stairway.
Such was the case with two 21-year-old recruits that we have recently taken on. Having paid for their own licence, it is important now to train them well and get them up to standard. Many companies are fearful of paying for training and then seeing individuals go to competitors. This does not happen if the company is a good employer, you train your recruits well so they gain the work ethic and become committed.
In many other industries companies do not have this fear; they view training as a necessity for raising the standards for the industry. Our industry should have a similar outlook and it is important for companies to develop their staff. How many look at the potential in their Class 2 drivers and up-skill them to Class 1, for example?
An industry wide approach to stop poaching drivers would certainly help. Poaching drivers may seem an easy solution but nobody wins in the long run because it pushes up prices across the sector and puts off other companies from investing in training.
Among other actions to tackle the shortage, we should be looking at every talent pool available. Given that just 1 per cent of drivers are female, this has to be one of the biggest untapped pools.
We see the value in apprenticeships in Farrall’s and intend to take on a couple of apprentices in September. By nurturing them through our workshop we can introduce them to the ‘Farrall’s way’, give them experience and put them through college. They will go on to gain a Class 1 licence and become committed. This ‘workshop to wheels ‘ approach is not a quick win but it is investing in our future.
In conclusion, our industry is facing an Incredibly tough 5-10 years because we are not replenishing our driver workforce. If goods can’t be moved or businesses have to pay more to get work done then the broader supply chain sector will be hit hard. We will also see the subcontractor database diminish as operators go out of business. As an industry we must do more to attract school leavers and young people into our sector as well as trawl new talent pools. It is equally important that we train, develop and invest in our existing staff without attempting a quick fix through poaching.