Thursday 26 November 2020

Figures suggest licensed drivers still unwilling to take the wheel

Image DVSA Crown copyright

Research published last month has cast further light on the state of the perceived driver shortage, and the transport industry’s continued failure to recruit and, more importantly, retain, licensed truck drivers.

Employers’ groups have estimated a driver shortfall of around 59,000 drivers. But in fact, there are 425,000 holders of C+E licences and a current driver qualification card (DQC), as compared to around 136,000 artic tractor units registered in the UK, and many thousands more drivers without the DQC who could be qualified after a week’s Driver CPC training.

The figures feature in a recent update on the driver crisis published by Kirsten Tisdale, principal of transport consultancy Aricia, who warned back in 2016 that the ‘shortage’ may be attributed more to a paucity of good employment opportunities in the industry than an actual dearth of licence holders.

The House of Commons transport select committee supported Ms Tisdale’s findings in 2016, saying: “We believe that the driver shortage is a shortage of people willing to work in the sector rather than a shortage of people with the right qualifications and licences.”

Ms Tisdale uses published government datasets and figures gained from freedom of information requests to determine how many qualified LGV licence holders there are in the UK, how many of those are actually driving for a living, and how many vehicles there are for them to drive.

She also examines how many people who acquire licences go on to use them in the industry, and the demographic groups most likely to stop driving for a living. She concludes that the problems highlighted in her first report four years ago are still very much a factor in the industry’s recruitment difficulties, and that large numbers of younger, newly-qualified drivers are still giving up professional driving.

“My conclusion remains that most people who have gone to some cost, time and effort to get qualified as HGV drivers do not use those qualifications. So, this is about re-inspiring people who’ve already taken their licences – we need to look at why people haven’t stuck with the industry,” she wrote.

She was also critical of industry efforts to plug the perceived shortfall in driver numbers with reference to diversity, adding: “As far as women and ethnic minorities are concerned, thereshould be absolutely no barriers, but they should not be seen as the solution to young white men not wanting to do the job – that is not equality, it is exploitation.

“The taxpayer should not be paying for more drivers to be trained, only for them to put their licence in a drawer. But, equally, it is unfair [for employers] to have to pay apprentice tax and not benefit.”

Ms Tisdale said: “There are various routes out of this problem. They include looking after drivers; give them self-respect by paying them an attractive rate for sensible hours. We need to be embarrassed at wasting driver time, [and] providing decent facilities at distribution centres, and out on the road.

“Except for the very last, these are all in the control of logistics companies, their customers and customers’ suppliers.”

She also suggested that Brexit should be taken as an opportunity to make driving more attractive by simplifying drivers’ hours regulations (noting that the current ‘simplified guidance’ is a 23-page document) and returning to “a sensible and more predictable working day/shift”.

Age profile continues to be a major concern; in the first half of this year, she pointed out, nearly half the qualified drivers ‘lost’ by the industry were aged under 30, while over half the holders of a C+E licence and DQC are aged over 50.

But while the demographic of those who work as drivers isageing as the industry contends, the demographic of people who hold the necessary licences is not; it is simply that they are not using those licences to drive trucks for a living.

Ms Tisdale charted the short career paths of young entrants to the industry.

“They realise that not only are they not King of the Road, but they’re never going to be. They get a different job with more social hours and not dissimilar pay, and regret the money they spent. And then when they get to 45, they let their medical lapse.”

She concluded by highlighting her attempt to garner interest from the industry in carrying out a survey that would have required financing: “a survey not of managers, or even of drivers, but of people who had licences and weren’t using them, to find out why they’d sought them and now weren’t using them.

“I didn’t get any interest from any of the main players.”

The report can be viewed here.

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