A sheer manpower shortage is the centre of many haulage woes and the numbers are truly staggering. The solution must be found, not only to ensure each firm’s survival, but for the sake of a whole world founded on a global supply chain.
The UK haulage industry has asked the government for help in supporting the recruitment and training of new drivers due to an unprecedented shortage.
In the past five years, heavy goods vehicle licence applications have dropped by more than 32,000. Many drivers say that younger people are put off by the high cost of the HGV driving test. This leaves an older population of lorry drivers, with over 13,000 over 65. To make matters worse, many new applicants consist of older driver changing careers. There are simply not enough people starting the role to keep up the required numbers as older drivers retire. The Freight Transport Association (FTA) estimates 45,000 new drivers are needed to keep the industry from grinding to a standstill.
Already, UK consumers are feeling the effects. There are delays, especially at busy times such as Christmas and holiday periods. A spokesman warned ‘Those beer barrels need to be delivered by someone’ – clearly hitting the UK where it matters most.
But beer barrels aside production lines will eventually be hit and shelves will go un-stocked, rocking an already fragile economy. The importance of meeting the transportation demands cannot be overstated: drivers provide the life-blood of any modern economy. With 1.6bn tonnes of goods moved by road in 2013, £22.9bn generated by the freight industry in 2013 and the collapse of the recently planned modernisation of network rail, the shortage comes at a particularly inopportune time.
The bad situation was compounded last September when experienced drivers walked away due to the new necessity of obtaining the Certificate of Professional Competence. This increased regulation means 35 hours training every five years, which though beneficial, meant many nearing retirement age simply left early to avoid the extra training.
The lack of replacements is due to the qualification costs. Qualifying for a licence costs at least £3000, providing learners pass first time. There’s no loan for this and they still need an employer willing to take the risk on a driver with no experience or background in an industry where experience is in abundance and manpower is at an expensive low. On top of this, hauling firms face insurance companies who insist drivers under 25 years old already have two years HGV experience… No wonder there’s a shortage of drivers! There is pressure on the UK government for vocational loans and grants, but in the midst of austerity, the chances look slim. It falls to employers to nurture the new drivers they will eventually depend on.
As already struggling companies shoulder the burden, the pressure is on to respond to an industry wide issue before it’s too late. Transport companies must make haulage attractive to young people and provide support before the effects of an ageing workforce create an unsustainable environment and further escalate an already mounting crisis. The obvious solution is to increase pay and fund licensing, but in the midst of impending disaster, perhaps the situation more innovative ways of gathering recruits to stop the bleed. One thing is a clear, a shift in mentality is required to overcome this crisis. Any short-termism must be replaced by long-term solutions, which aim to create sustainable operations throughout the haulage industry.