According to the Freight Transport Association’s Quarterly Transport Activity Survey (QTAS), the freight and logistics sector is suffering a shortage of skilled drivers. Of the 6000 businesses questioned in the sector, almost a third were experiencing serious delays in driver recruitment (FTA). With warnings of an upcoming shortage reported almost 2 years ago, why have preventative measures not been taken to avoid this, and what does this mean for the freight and logistics sector, and UK businesses?

 

In October 2015, as part of their first ever National Lorry Week, the Road Haulage Association issued a stark warning that the shortage of drivers would have a serious impact for consumers at Christmas. Richard Burnett, RHA chief executive said: ‘We are short of between 45,000 and 50,000 drivers and the situation is getting worse.  Thousands of older drivers are leaving the industry and younger people can’t afford the £3,000 it costs to get a truck licence.” (RHA). At that time, there were a reported 600,000 HGV drivers in the UK, with an average age of 57 (Mirror).

 

Two years on, the FTA have warned that the shortage continues, “At a time when British businesses are becoming increasingly reliant on an efficient supply chain, the lack of qualified drivers available to work could soon become cause for concern,” says Christopher Snelling, FTA’s Head of National and Regional Policy. Snelling adds “And with just over 57% of respondents to QTAS also anticipating a shortage of HGV drivers moving into the second half of 2017, it is clear that the industry needs a recruitment boost to overcome the potential issues which this could cause in the long term to Britain’s ongoing profitability.” (Handling & Storage Solutions)

Roadmap Solutions

The RHA have been lobbying for more government funding towards HGV training since 2015. In December 2015 the government launched a new Trailblazer apprenticeship to try to attract more young people into the industry (Ecodrive). Last year the government also committed to providing funding to operators to train new drivers, with extra funding to be made available to companies training 16-18 year olds, in the hope to attract more young people to the industry. (The Commercial Vehicle Show 2018). In addition, the RHA recently teamed up with The Close Brothers to provide a funded apprenticeship scheme to combat the shortage of 45,000 drivers in the UK (RHA).

Freightening Times Ahead?

The importance of road freight has been highlighted by the Department for Transport statistics, showing that 89% of the land transportation of goods is by road freight, and 98% of food and agriculture, consumer products and machinery are transported by road  (RHA). To put it mildly, that’s a lot of products. Knowing this, it’s worrying to think that this driver shortage, if left unresolved, may end up as a logistical nightmare within the next decade.

Silver Linings

Despite reporting weaker growth in the domestic road freight activity levels, the QTAS findings, sponsored by Santander UK, do offer some hope though, reporting reasonable growth in domestic logistics operations, and mostly forecasting strong growth in Q3 2017 (FTA).

In response, John Simkins, Head of Transport and Logistics at Santander, said, “A shortage of skilled drivers has been a persistent challenge in the sector over recent years, and the results of this survey indicate that this is still an ongoing problem. However, it is encouraging to see that businesses from across the country are expecting strong growth in domestic activity in the coming months. Despite some T&L businesses putting their international expansion plans currently on hold, the T&L sector will continue to play a crucial role in the UK economy.” (MHW Magazine).

Despite this optimism, the shortage continues, so it’s clear more needs to be done to attract drivers to the industry. Whether this is achieved through increased government funded incentives, or by using PR methods to improve young peoples’ preconceptions about the industry, if the common goal is not achieved, then ultimately businesses and consumers alike will suffer the consequences.

 

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