When writing this column I have been known once or twice to draw attention to the relatively low levels of public funding attracted by the logistics industry (eight per cent of the workforce, 3.5 per cent public funding share) when compared with construction (eight per cent of the workforce, 16 per cent of public funding), and engineering (nine per cent of workforce, 23 per cent of public funding).
In case you’ve avoided having to read the column before, a short reprise of my explanation for at least some of this phenomenon is that employers in the construction and engineering sectors have long traditions of ‘bringing people on in their craft’, publicly recognised qualifications such as NVQs are embedded in their people development and they tend to make much greater use of apprenticeships than we do in the logistics sector.
With this as a backdrop, we need to look again at the position regarding the supply of LGV drivers across the UK. The UK logistics sector brings around 25,000 new LGV drivers into its ranks each year. This input is necessary just to address natural churn as drivers retire or leave the industry. Up to five years ago, shortages were apparent around the UK as a result of a sustained period where the new entrants fell below the level necessary to keep the driver reservoir topped up.
This developed into crisis proportions around the first five years of this century, exacerbated by concerns about the impact of the European Working Time Directive on the situation. A combination of that effect being smaller than feared and the ready influx of drivers from the accession States in Europe has removed the words ‘Driver Shortage’ from the lexicon. Or has it?
The recently published look into the ‘Driver Shortage Pot’ reveals, for me, two worrying statistics. Firstly, only eight per cent of driver vacancies are filled by people outside the sector. Put another way, 92 per cent of vacancies are filled through churn. Secondly, almost 20 per cent of LGV drivers are now over 55, and well over half are over the age of 45. Those two sets of statistics combine with the fact that under a tenth of people in the logistics sector are under 25.
So we have a situation where a fifth of our driving workforce will retire in the next 10 years (if they even last that long in a physically demanding job!) According to the statistics, we will all seek to fill those vacancies mainly from the existing reservoir, topped up by drivers from Eastern Europe. What very few of us will do is recruit young people as entrants to the sector. To put it mildly, this is hardly sustainable. What’s more, whoever is writing this column in 10 years time will look back on 2007 as ‘the good old days’ when we only had 20 per cent of the workforce over 55 compared with the 30 per cent that it will be in 2017.
Clearly, something drastic has to be done to put this right. We know we have to improve the image of the industry. We have to create and improve the image of logistics as a profession.
Wind back to the top of this column and maybe the comparison with construction and engineering now has more of a resonance. We are considering the development of a ‘logistics apprenticeship’ which could, in the main be standard across the whole sector. It will involve bringing in school leavers at 16, giving them a grounding around the office, putting them through their Category B licence at 17, where possible putting them out on the vans, putting them through their Cat C at 18 and their C+E twelve months later. The result is a trained driver who knows the operation inside out at 19.
Maybe such an arrangement won’t suit all employers but it may be fundable and if enough companies sign up to it, it could be seen to make a real difference, not only to the driver shortage but crucially to the attractiveness of the sector to young people. If you are interested in the development, or if you disagree violently with it, give me a shout on firstname.lastname@example.org.
To paraphrase another old lag let’s hear more of “You’re Hired”.