Jacqueline O’Donovan, managing director of O’Donovan Waste Disposal, offers her take on how industry should seek to inspire the next generation
In July, a report from the House of Commons transport committee shed a startling light on the shortfall of skilled drivers within the road haulage sector, with estimations being between 45,000-60,000. At the time, I spoke out about how I hoped this announcement would act as an incentive to the government to help channel new recruits into the sector.
Our industry has just celebrated National Lorry Week, coined by the Road Haulage Association to transform the way the industry projects itself and is perceived. The theme of this year’s awareness week was ‘The Next Generation’.
Never has there been a better time for our industry to push for change and help young people at school and university to realise the range of career opportunities available to them within logistics. It is our responsibility to educate the next generation about the huge contribution of road haulage companies to the economy. Generating excitement is how we’ll inspire, and inspiration will be our tool for solving the skills shortage.
To put it into context, collectively the road transport industry employs over 1.7m people in the UK, contributing £75 billion to the economy, making it fifth largest industry in the UK. Outside of the industry, this is often overlooked and in some cases not even considered.
This may be because, historically, lorry drivers’ duties were much vaster, whereas nowadays their role is strictly driving, leaving a wide range of job opportunities that are attractive to both men and women.
The RHA is calling for companies with HGV fleets to embrace their #LoveTheLorry campaign, and a lorry’s importance cannot be overlooked; 85 per cent of everything consumed in the UK is carried by a lorry at some stage in the supply chain. These trucks contribute 35 per cent (£5.7 billon) in fuel duty alone to HM Treasury each year. There is a huge opportunity for jobs and career progression in an industry that is quite literally driving our economy.
So how do we introduce young people to these roles? Apprenticeships are a great option for starters. Under the current arrangements for apprenticeships, there is no support from the government, with beliefs that people should pay to get their own licences, even though courses cost £3,000, plus a £230 fee for the test.
This lack of support needs to be addressed, as there is only so much the industry can do by itself. The RHA has made a great start by engaging with the Department for Work and Pensions and creating its own apprenticeship scheme; I’d like to see more of this across the industry.
One solution would be to pay apprentices to train with a driver on the road to build knowledge of skills such as seasonal driving; proper training requires a minimum of six months dedicated to it, so our industry has a responsibility to provide these opportunities.
In addition, by increasing government funding into the recruitment side of the industry, perhaps through a student loan, we will be able to search for new drivers, diversify the industry and help to reduce youth unemployment.
Yet while the government has a role to play, not all the pressure should fall on them. A key part of the skills shortage is the current gender imbalance in the logistics sector. With only eight per cent of the 400,000 people holding both an LGV license and a driver CPC being female, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of our industry to make a conscious effect to attract more women.
Although government funding will be a small incentive for female workers, companies should actively encourage the search for women drivers and managers and give them fresh impetus to enter an industry currently dominated by men. Times have changed in the industry – job opportunities for women are there to be snapped up, long distance truck stops have facilities suitable for women… We need to help them realise this.
The starting point for this? Education. From a young age, children are given certain expectations as to what is classified as a male job and what is female. We need to educate children from school age that there are more options available to them than they might have initially realised.
I’ve worked with incredibly talented women who were unaware of the career prospects in the sector before they started. By taking on mentoring roles, hosting talks and collaborating with educational institutions, we can address this issue and hopefully raise the profile of the hard-working women in the industry.
Another reason for hauliers struggling to employ those under the age of 25 is because of the difficulty they have had getting insurance for their more inexperienced drivers.
But there’s a solution to this – if the whole industry implements clearly planned and supervised training programmes which can be monitored, logged and reported on, insurance companies will be more inclined to listen and we’ll see younger drivers able to be trained and carrying out the role.
Although I have emphasised the need to encourage more drivers, it is important that we continue to maintain high levels of training. For me, safety training is the most important aspect of the job, as we are responsible for our drivers’ safety alongside those of the vulnerable road users we share the roads with.
London and other cities are ever-changing and as an industry we need to keep up with these changes. There has been a lot of scrutiny on London drivers recently, and although cyclist deaths were down by 12 per cent year-on year in 2015 from 2014 – the lowest figure on record, with cyclists numbers increasing – there is still so much more we can do together to reduce this figure even further.
I personally deliver the training at my company, as we designed our own in-house Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) which we offer out to other companies.
These changes aren’t going to happen overnight, and with the uncertainty of Brexit’s impact on recruiting talent from abroad still to be seen, we will need to work together to attract new talent and well trained drivers.