Back in the first five years of the “noughties”, the industry was beset by a severe shortage of qualified LGV drivers. Things were bad enough that some, more enlightened companies trained up new recruits into the sector and there was something of a profusion of so-called “warehouse to wheels” schemes where trusted members of the workforce were trained up to drive.
At the time, the shortage was big news and a topic that regularly took centre stage at the Road Haulage Forum. Then – deus ex machina – over the hill like John Wayne on a cavalry charge came the economic migrants from the accession states and there was a problem no more.
All the signs are that we are coming back into the same territory now as demand starts to outstrip supply of drivers. This time however, we have all the elements of a perfect storm building as: first, entrants to the sector hit an all-time low; second, uncertainty mounts over reaction to the periodic training requirements of Driver CPC by older drivers; and third, the flow of migrants from the A8 countries has not only reduced but gone into reverse.
Let’s take each of those in turn.
Skills for Logistics has discovered some interesting figures through a Freedom of Information request to the DVLA. In 2005/6 27,612 people passed their Cat C driving test, with 11,608 passing their C+E. By 2009/10, this had reduced to 15,029 and 6,720 respectively. While most of that reduction occurred in 2009/10 and can be attributed to the introduction of DCPC, the trend was firmly downwards across the whole period.
As an aside, our research seems to suggest that of the people gaining their licence in 2009/10, only 20 per cent went on to get their DCPC card. This means that, either only 20 per cent of people who pass their test are driving professionally or 80 per cent of those who did are currently driving illegally.
We are two years into the DCPC era and we still do not really know what the uptake will be. Data is slowly starting to emerge but that is currently serving to confuse rather than illuminate. The basic issue is that nobody knows how many LGV licence holders are actually driving professionally. Working on a basis of calculating the minimum number of drivers necessary to keep the vehicle parc operative, we have calculated a 27 per cent shortfall of DCPC qualified drivers by 2014. But that is a very conservative figure.
What we do know is that 45 per cent of the logistics workforce is over the age of 45. This is the age at which the LGV licence has to be renewed every five years. Given that, the much threatened exodus of older drivers from 2014 could well come true, especially if the economy is showing signs of recovery by then.
So what about the third point – the “get out of jail free” card presented by economic migrants? Between 2004 and 2009, 7,010 LGV and 5,970 van drivers came into the UK from the A8 accession countries. Across all sectors, almost half of the 1.4 million migrants from the A8 countries had returned home by the end of 2008. Registrations under the UK Worker Registration Scheme for the logistics sector decreased from 655 a month in 2005 to 85 a month in 2009, the latest figures available.
So it is starting to look like we can expect another shortage over the next five years but who will help us out this time? We could cast the net wider and go for more distant accession countries but the A8 countries are virtually the only growing economies in Europe at present as they reap the benefits of manufacturing reorientation within the continent so they may be attractive in themselves. Migrants from more far flung countries are a possibility but only if LGV driving earns sufficient points on the skills test. But do we really want to do that?
Here’s a radical suggestion. Why don’t we train up some young British recruits into driving as a step into a career in logistics? I can already hear the clamour of voices shouting “insurance”. However, here’s a couple of suggestions.
Firstly, the government is focusing very much on apprenticeships. Why don’t we back up any warehouse to wheels schemes by offering some of our warehouse operatives a driving apprenticeship (even if they are 19 or over it could well attract some funding) and then backfill that post with a young person’s warehouse apprenticeship. This will start to give us a sustainable flow of new talent into the sector.
Secondly, there seems to be some very positive reaction to the idea of a Modern Logistics Guild as a focus for professional development of logistics operatives. This Guild-type approach will give us a real opportunity to raise the image of the sector and driving in particular and should give us a sound basis to tackle the insurance industry on more affordable and realistic premiums for Guild members.
It has to be worth a try because John Wayne’s no longer an option.
Dr Mick Jackson is chief executive of Skills for Logistics.
Logistics Manager, December 2012