Who are you calling short? : Mick Jackson

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For certain periods in history, particular topics dominate conversations whenever certain groups of people get together. It’s a fair bet that between now and the middle of July, the World Cup will dominate conversations in pubs in those parts of the UK fortunate enough to qualify for the finals (ie England). In times gone by, put a number of logistics managers together and they would as likely discuss company cars as anything.

In the last couple of years of the last century and the first five of this, such conversations within the industry have been dominated by the problem of “The Driver Shortage”. Trade associations, unions and government have been scratching their heads about how to solve the problem in august gatherings such as the Road Haulage Forum.

The absolute fundamental at the base of the argument has always been the fact that for a large number of reasons, driving is not seen as an attractive job. Sweeping up the pit lane area and cleaning up the garage is a dirty job done under hot steamy conditions but I bet you never find Formula One racing teams complaining about difficulty in filling such posts.

However, all the available figures suggest that the driver shortage issue has bottomed out and is now improving. Reasons for this include:

l A certain re-appraisal of the driver’s role in the light of the Working Time Directive, with a bigger focus, where possible, on driving and less on other duties.

A reasonable definition of “periods of availability” in the UK Directive.

The introduction on an increasing scale of migrant drivers, especially from Eastern Europe.

The research done by Skills for Logistics predicted a further increase last year which failed to materialise, principally because it factored in fears about the directive which did not hit as expected by companies at that time.

There are genuine reasons why we can be cautiously optimistic about the driver shortage but not too much so. The underlying issues remain:

Under two per cent of drivers are female.

Under one per cent of drivers are from ethnic minorities.

Only nine per cent of people working in logistics as a whole are under 25.

The average age of drivers is mid-40s and rising.

Clearly in age terms alone, we are sitting on a demographic time bomb – despite this government’s sterling efforts to keep its citizens working into their eighties!

In skills terms, if we are going to avoid purely up-skilling the rest of Europe, we need to understand how we can access the vast reservoirs of potential talent that exist in this country, especially in the three groups highlighted above.

This is in no way meant to be xenophobic along the lines of whether foreign footballers should dominate our premiership football. However, during the next five years there will be an upsurge in demand for jobs in the logistics and construction sector as a result of the 2012 Olympics. If we are not careful, these jobs will be filled from mainland Europe and this will prevent us from achieving a very considerable skills legacy that could otherwise be ours.

At Skills for Logistics we are embarking on a piece of research, kindly funded by the Department for Transport which will try to establish the real and perceived barriers to entering the logistics industry, particularly for women and ethnic minorities.

If you can add to that research or the debate in general, please contact [email protected]

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