Monday, March 21, 2016

So What's Being Done to Address the Commercial Road Haulage Driver Shortage?

(Not Enough May Unfortunately be the Answer)
Shipping News Feature
UK – LGV or HGV, it seems everybody in the road haulage industry believes we have a shortage of goods vehicle drivers which is likely to become worse in the next few years unless new talent is recruited into the industry. So what has caused this situation? Supply chain and logistics generally are often not even on the radar of the young as a possible career path and certainly the gender gap for professional drivers is a perennial, if artificially perceived, hurdle. This month a survey carried out by returnloads.net of those currently working in the industry has produced some results which may prove surprising to some.

Questions asked ranged from type of employment and geographical region to proposals for attracting more into the sector and with a sizeable response, 412 respondents, answers given provided a different perspective from those which many lobbyists would have expected.

Principal amongst these were that less than half of those surveyed actually believed (shock horror) there is really a driver shortage. Supporting this are the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) which indicate that nearly 80,000 qualified HGV drivers with valid driver CPCs are choosing not to work as such, preferring to avoid an industry which the survey indicates is one of poor wages, unacceptable facilities and where proponents are held in low esteem.

Over a third of drivers (36%) claimed to be poorly treated by their employers whilst a massive 78% of respondents said they would not recommend becoming a professional HGV driver. The results from this one survey would seem to indicate that it is the quality of the work and wage levels, rather than a poor perception of the industry, which are the main factors in deterring new entrants into the sector.

Much was made prior to Christmas about the government plans for a ‘Trailblazer’ apprenticeship scheme to encourage more drivers into the sector. Sadly this seems to have been partly hot air from the government, the LGV Trailblazer Standard received approval from the government after proposals had been submitted no less than three times. A consortium led by Colin Snape from cool chain specialists Nagel-Langdon and including the Road Haulage Association (RHA), Freight Transport Association (FTA) and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) finally got some attention after seeing numerous schemes approved, very few of which have the significance for the country’s well-being which theirs did.

A check on the government website today, some three months after the driver apprenticeships approval, shows no signs of any advance being made in the state of play. The schemes under the Trailblazer banner are many and varied but only a few are at the ‘ready for delivery’ phase of the hundreds proposed, and many only at the preliminary stage with no standard for the programme yet developed, which at least the driver scheme has reached.

Speaking to the Handy Shipping Guide Colin Snape told us that, all being well, the new apprentice driver scheme proposed should be trialled in September, assuming of course the numerous government hoops which litter the scheme applications have all been negotiated. Other logistics based apprenticeships awaiting approval include supply chain operator whilst warehousing and express courier driver options are still at the first stage.

It seems unlikely that the Trailblazer initiative, when it finally starts, will do much to help drivers with the costs associated with progressing in the industry. To fund a full HGV licence an individual needs to raise around £3,000 to cover all the costs of training etc. but earlier this month Department for Transport Minister Lord Ahmed confirmed there would be no government assistance for this to encourage more into the sector, whilst within the Trailblazer apprenticeship ‘checks and discussions might establish elements based on knowledge in training that can be looked at in terms of funding’. Don’t hold one’s breath on that then.

As the government’s avowed intent is to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 that means around 11,500 a week, which works out at about 300 every working hour. With such ambitious targets we can only hope that the 30,000 drivers expected to qualify by that time will be an historic milestone marking a reversal of the current trend, and not an empty promise spawned by post-election euphoria.