Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry; Red Lorry, No Lorry Why Haulage Is No Longer the Career You’ll See At The Movies

The UK logistics industry is heading at breakneck speed towards a gaping hole in the road ahead – a well-documented HGV driver shortage that could well and truly put the brakes on Britain’s economic recovery. Having survived Christmas 2014 and the predictions of empty shelves, as logistics companies struggled to keep up with consumer demand, the haulage industry’s New Year’s resolution should be to solve the big headache that is HGV driver recruitment.

The statistics make for gloomy reading. The average age of an employee in the haulage sector is 53 – much higher than in other industries.  40% of drivers at the wheel of vehicles weighing over 7.5 tonnes are aged over 50. Over 250,000 UK HGV drivers will retire in the next 15 years. 

It is estimated that the UK needs an extra 150,000 drivers by 2020, to cope with a massive increase in online shopping, but only 4% of the workforce within the sector is aged under 25 and the number of HGV tests taken fell by 25% between 2008 and 2012, with the downward spiral continuing year on year.  Recruiting new, young drivers is proving problematic and any funding for apprenticeships is aimed at the wrong demographic – 16-18 year olds and not those old enough to get an HGV licence.  It all adds up to a ticking time bomb for a UK economy that transports 60% of its goods by road. 

So what’s the answer?  Leading logistics company, Wincanton, trained up its distribution staff and redeployed trucks from its construction arm, to get retail deliveries out for Christmas 2014.  Others are looking to Ireland and Europe for their HGV drivers.  The haulage industry is having to think on its feet and optimise its waning resources, using tactics such as ‘drop and swap’, where a driver delivers a consignment and swaps one full container for an empty one, which is taken back to a terminal and sent back to port. 

Collaboration within the supply chain is another way that the industry is trying to bale itself out, at a time when the Freight Transport Association (FTA) reports that its member depots are short of 5-10 drivers and driver agencies also need 10 additional drivers per branch. 

What the implications for haulage insurance premiums are is impossible to say – insurance underwriters must stay on their toes, assess what’s happening in the market and react accordingly.  With younger drivers taking to the HGV wheel comes a reduction of experience on the road, which usually means higher insurance costs.  Certainly, commercial insurance specialist, Gauntlet, is expecting more calls from hauliers wishing to access its extensive network of insurers and lower their premiums. Haulage insurance is perhaps something that hasn’t been factored in, as the industry begins the evolution needed, if it is to satisfy changing patterns of retailing and consumption. 

Many point to the HGV driver Certificate of Professional Competence as the catalyst behind driver shortages.  This has forced HGV drivers to undertake 35 hours of training, before a September 2014 deadline and at a cost of around £3000 per HGV driver. Further training is then required every 5 years.  Wise old heads, driving their HGVs since Adam was a lad, were never likely to view this kindly and it has, undoubtedly, encouraged many to retire and quit the industry.  But this is probably masking the real issue; quite frankly, driving an HGV is no longer an attractive career choice. 

Movies mirror a society and inspire young people’s lifestyle choices. Ask yourself when a great trucking movie was last made and you’d find yourself back in the 1970s and 80s, rolling down the road in ‘Convoy’ or ‘Smokey and the Bandit’, riding in the passenger seat with Clint in ‘Every Which Way But Loose’ and kicking up dust with ‘Mad Max’.  But gone are the days of the macho CB radio and its strange, yet ever-so-slightly-addictive lingo, involving Rubber Ducks and Pig Pens. Even chomping on your Yorkie Bar has lost its attraction in a world of regulation, EU compliance and movies that shun the masculine, hardy image of the trucker and replace it with digital gurus and highly-paid footballers as today’s heroes. The latter can offer you a chance of riches and renown; the former, the glitz and glamour of a night at a Relais Routier, if you get really lucky! 

Efforts are being made to stop the rot and, in a country in which the logistics industry is worth £74.45 billion and employs 2.2 million people, they are desperately needed.  The Road Haulage Association (RHA) hopes to launch a work experience week in 2015, which will be run in conjunction with Jobcentre Plus and encourage younger people to pursue a career in logistics. The problem is that, whichever poster boy is chosen for the haulage recruitment campaign, they most probably won’t be representative of the vast majority of 50-something, committed, secret CB-radio-loving HGV drivers with whom they’ll be sharing the motorway services’ truck park. 

Details of Gauntlet’s haulage insurance can be found at www.gauntlethaulageinsurance.com or by calling 0113 244 8686.

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