Drivers under the spotlight

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Are lorry drivers gradually taking over our TV screens? Eddie Stobart: Trucks and Trailers is currently in its third series on Channel 5, while Channel 4 recently aired the carefully titled MotherTruckers documentary, which highlighted how women, although currently just 2 per cent of the UK lorry drivers, are a growing force on the road.

Add the fact that Hillary Devey, who alongside running a lorry-based business, is now also one of the most familiar faces on TV and one starts to wonder if the logistics sector seems to be gaining its own celebrity.

Television clearly has a major influence on the career choices of young people. Of course there are some followers of The X-factor or Big Brother who harbour little ambition other than to be an instant celebrity but TV can also grab the interest of the young on behalf of jobs that hithertoo had not been on their radar. Take for example popular shows such as CSI and Waking the Dead, which seem to have driven a surge in demand for careers in forensic science. Unfortunately, the number of forensic science jobs available is actually very small.

Trucks and Trailers may lack some of CSI’s glamour, but programmes such as this have their own strong following too and by shining a light on the sector they can certainly open the eyes of the viewers and generate an interest in logistics as a career.

And, unlike forensic science, there is a big demand for lorry drivers but far too few people who are qualified to take up the opportunities. This brings us to something of a paradox because during any period of rising unemployment, the monthly release of the latest figures will trigger debate and raise the inevitable question: where are the jobs?

Well, here’s an irony: the UK’s economic growth is actually in jeopardy by a serious shortage of qualified LGV drivers.

There can be few in the sector who have not suspected a looming driver shortage. Figures from the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) show this to be the case: between 2005 and 2010 there has been a 50 per cent fall in LGV tests taken as well as a 45 per cent drop in pass rates. Meanwhile, the number of LGV driver vacancies at job centres has increased by 50 per cent. What is really striking is how this is so obviously at odds with the broad economic situation. While the economic downturn mitigated the problem of driver shortages, as the UK strives for economic growth, the shortage will become increasingly apparent.

Getting to the root of the challenge and then fixing it is extremely important for the sector and UK economy at large. The risks associated with a driver shortage are obvious and extend beyond our sector. Without a functioning logistics sector the economy cannot operate properly. While in the current climate this must endanger economic recovery, in the longer term, foreign investors are unlikely to see the UK as an attractive place for their factories or assembly plants unless there is an effective logistics service.

This means attracting new entrants and then supporting them in their career are the necessary steps. In practice this means that we need to make ours look like the sort of sector where people want to work.

It is all too easy working within logistics to forget how those outside perceive it. We all know how important it is but do the young job seekers? While TV can throw a spotlight on the sector, it is the Logistics sector itself that can do the most to help.

We need to work together to get young people interested, to get parents and teachers involved. At Skills for Logistics, for example, we are working with employers and partners across the UK to liaise with schools and colleges. We also need to make sure there are pathways, which will allow progression up the career ladder. SfL are working to ensure there are relevant qualifications in place across the sector.

It’s not just about attracting young people into the industry but ensuring those already working within it have the right training and skills. Here again, SfL can work with the relevant bodies and through them identify the necessary skills relevant for different industry sectors to provide the training that will deliver the most value.

Finance is a challenge that we shouldn’t overlook. Accessing resources to pay for training is particularly tough at the moment and SfL are exploring ways in which individuals and employers can access the money they need to get the training needed.

Without action, logistics will become the focus of a different kind of television programme: documentaries about driver shortages.

Dr Mick Jackson is chief executive of Skills for Logistics


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