Tuesday, May 26, 2020

As Road Haulage Drivers Maintain the Urban Supply Chain How Will Truckers be Viewed Post Virus?

Social Status and Remuneration Levels for the Profession Delivering Freight Around the World
Shipping News Feature

US – UK – WORLDWIDE – The shortage of competent HGV drivers is one spread across continents, and in many countries it will require a social shift before this particular crisis can be solved. As it happens we are currently seeing a catalyst for change as road haulage companies attempt to keep the integrity of the supply chain intact and freight freely flowing to millions of concerned customers.

A crucial hindrance to having a well-trained, competent workforce of professional HGV drivers is how the profession is viewed in different countries around the world. Gradually the image of an overweight bloke in a greasy vest is receding as more and more, often uniformed, last mile delivery drivers appear at the doors of the customers, yet still most youngsters leaving school in the UK for example, give hardly a thought to training as a driver, with a view to moving up the weight classes as they age.

The standards expected of a professional driver today are light years away from the ‘grandfather’s rights’ brigade which filled the gaps post war when no training whatsoever was necessary to obtain a licence if you could evidence some level of experience, often a basic minimum gained in the armed forces, and when getting an HGV licence was a simpler affair.

In 1970 things changed and a driver qualified for a licence depending on what class he normally drove. In 1993 came another change when Class 2 licences changed to LGV affecting what was driveable on the licence, and then in September 2009 (a year earlier for buses) the Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) became mandatory, but existing drivers had ‘acquired rights’ although they would still need to do the mandatory 35 hours of retraining in every 5 year period.

By 2018 all Grandfather’s rights expired and anyone coming into the profession had to complete all the CPC and on the road training required for each licence class of heavier vehicle. That old image however still clung on, often with similarly depressed rates of pay although the shortage has rectified this, still as we say the previous perception lingers, perhaps now liable to change as recession looms and a reliable, socially essential job with professional standards becomes more attractive.

This situation varies elsewhere across the continent where in Germany for example, HGV driving has been looked on as truly professional occupation for many years. In some of the newer EU states less so, and the disparity in international wage levels has had a profound effect on which nationalities truck freight across Western Europe, sometimes causing major friction as native drivers lost out to their less well remunerated neighbours.

In Africa we see operations like Transaid conducting HGV driver training, appalled by the sheer volume of deaths and injuries in places like Zambia, a programme now expanded to Tanzania and Uganda. Meanwhile standards in Asia fluctuate wildly from country to country, often more reminiscent of the Wild West that the meditative East. It is common on Thai roads for example to see all roadside trees painted white in an attempt to reduce the number of gaudily painted wagons seen on a daily basis when the rising sun shows where they have left the road at night and crashed into the surrounding plantations.

In the US figures released last week by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) in its latest Driver Compensation Study, demonstrate the increased importance that driver shortages are having. This showed average driver pay, including bonuses, rose sharply by 2019, the average pay for truckload national, irregular route solo van drivers was roughly $58,000, up $6,000 from 2017.

Fleets responding to the survey also reported offering significant benefit packages in order to attract drivers including paid leave, insurance, meals and other incidentals and retirement plans. For example, more than 90% of truckload carriers, less-than-truckload carriers and private fleets surveyed offered drivers paid leave and health insurance. ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello, explains:

“These results show that fleets did exactly what we would expect them to in the face of a tightening market for drivers, they raised pay and increased benefits in order to attract talent. We saw large carriers hire more entry-level drivers in 2019, including drivers directly from driver training school, which lowered the average pay for these carriers, but they did not reduce pay rates. It was just a different driver experience pool.

“What these figures show is that being a truck driver can be a path to a middle class lifestyle for millions of Americans. With the long-term impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crisis not yet fully clear, we can say that a career in trucking could be a well-paying solution for some of the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs so far this year.”

That picture may hold good in many countries provided that the economic depression which many feel will follow in the recovery period after Covid-19, does not have the opposite effect. The biggest fear being of course that, with jobs hard to come by, the rates for drivers and the rising numbers of unemployed will devalue this, and many other professions.

Photo: The appalling fatality levels caused solely by incompetent, untrained drivers which persuaded transport charity Transaid to get involved.