The much-reported shortage of UK truck drivers may be attributed more to a paucity of attractive employment opportunities in the industry than a dearth of large goods vehicle (LGV) licence holders, a transport consultant has claimed.
Kirsten Tisdale is principal of logistics consultancy Aricia Ltd. Prior to establishing the consultancy in 2001, she held senior positions as a consultant or manager with Marks & Spencer Logistics Group, TNT, NFC and others.
Concerned at reports of a demographic ‘ticking timebomb’ in the driving workforce from trade associations, she made freedom of information requests of the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) for the numbers of all Category C and C + E licence holders with and without the Driver CPC qualification, and asked that these be provided in five-year age bands.
She compared these numbers with those provided by the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Labour Force Survey, which recorded the number of people who said they were employed as LGV drivers in the period June-September 2015.
The results are startling. There are 80,000 individuals with a Category C or C + E LGV licence and a current Driver CPC in the crucial 25-44 age group (the most attractive to employers for insurance and medical reasons) who are not currently working as truck drivers.
What’s more, there are 90,000 individuals in the 25-34 age band holding C or C + E licences, but without a current Driver CPC. All they would require would be a week in a classroom without any test or examination, and they too could get behind the wheel of a truck.
Ms Tisdale cautions that this figure includes an unknown number of serving armed forces personnel who are obviously not currently available to employers. But the figures nonetheless put the 45,000-60,000 shortage estimated by the trade associations into sharp context.
Could it in fact be the case that an oversupply of drivers has led to poor wages and conditions of employment, in turn making it deeply unattractive as an employment prospect?
Transport Operator has questioned ten former truck drivers about the reasons why they left the industry. They all cited stress as a major factor – highlighting unrealistic scheduling and aggressive micromanagement by telematics, overzealous enforcement, and the aggressive or distracted behavior of other road users as key irritants.
Other significant factors cited by a majority of respondents included low wages and/or poor pension provision, and long working hours.
A variety of other careers had since been chosen, ranging from entering the police service to becoming a lab assistant, but most former drivers we questioned are now engaged in plant operation and/or maintenance, or building trades.
There was, however, one thing they all agreed upon – while they enjoyed driving trucks, none of them had any intention of ever doing it for a living again.
If those who are already qualified to drive trucks no longer feel inclined to do so, urgent questions emerge about how the industry expects to attract new trainees. A typical ‘starter’ job in truck driving will be 7.5-tonne multidrop for between 50p to £1 an hour over the national minimum wage.
“This is about re-inspiring people who took their licences and couldn’t hack the job for whatever reason,” argued Kirsten Tisdale. “If it were just one or two people, then you could put it down to their own unrealistic expectations. But it looks like there’s tens, even hundreds, of thousands.
“Our industry isn’t just less attractive to younger people, it’s not that attractive to any age group. So how do we get some of those qualified people to come and drive a truck?”
She highlights the “legislative burden” inflicted upon drivers as one factor forcing them out of the industry, but also urges employers to take a long, hard look at themselves.
“There are things that our industry can do for itself. Looking after drivers – giving them self-respect by paying them an attractive rate for sensible hours, and providing some decent facilities at DCs and out on the road. We need to ask ourselves how many older drivers would come into the industry today, particularly as agency drivers?
“Increased wages and training need to be built into increased operating costs and charges for transport need to go up.”
Responding to the figures, Alan White, managing director of Fresh Logistics Services, asked: “What are we going to do about the driver shortage? Well to start, change your pay and conditions, invest in your workforce and understand your business cost base – rather than being a fiver cheaper than Joe Bloggs Haulage.”
According to the Labour Party’s Labour Research Department, the median increase for basic rates of pay in the transport and communication sector last year was two per cent, down from 2.7 per cent the previous year. The respected independent journal Commercial Vehicle Engineer has forecast a driver pay increase of 2.5 per cent for the coming year.
In contrast, the ONS reports average pay increases across the whole UK workforce of 2.7 per cent for 2014-15, with pay increases of 2.9 per cent in the service sector, 3.6 per cent in finance and banking and (most significantly for the transport industry) 4.0 per cent in construction.