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Where have all the truck drivers gone?

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The shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers is a global problem that has been ignored and allowed to fester for years

Anyone watching news coverage from the UK recently could be forgiven for thinking that the heavy goods vehicle (HGV) driver shortage in the UK is a direct result of the pandemic and the dreaded Brexit. But the HVG driver shortage is by no means a new issue or indeed a problem confined solely to the UK. The HGV driver shortage is, in fact, a global problem that has been ignored and allowed to fester for years.

The average age of HGV drivers in the UK is 53, with just one in 50 drivers aged under 25, and many due soon to retire. In Ireland, the average age of a HGV driver is 48, the same as the United States. Kris Kristofferson’s 1978 film Convoy undoubtedly played a role in motivating many of today’s middle-aged HGV drivers in deciding to spend a life on the road.

Breaker one-nine, this here’s the Rubber Duck

But much has changed in both the road network and in the heavy goods vehicle since Rubber Duck and his buddies first drove onto our screens. The interior of a modern heavy goods vehicle is a very pleasant environment with state of the art technology and ergonomics. In recent decades, though, there seems to be very little desire or motivation by young people to choose a career as a HGV driver. Why is this?

HGV drivers are largely a disenfranchised workforce in which drivers typically spend many days and hours away from their families, especially in long-distance haulage. Moreover, it offers a less than healthy work environment. Because drivers spend many hours a day sitting inside the cab of their vehicle, many develop poor eating habits and have few opportunities for physical exercise.

Is it any wonder the industry is facing a major challenge?

The collective result of these less than ideal working conditions is borne by the HGV driver. Across the globe, diabetes, heart conditions and musculoskeletal issues are higher among HGV drivers than most other careers. All these factors are coupled with poor pay concerns and a general feeling of a lack of respect. For example, some major companies specify a narrow time slot for their delivery and will turn HGV drivers away if they arrive outside that window.

They also keep them waiting in their yard sometimes for hours once the vehicle has checked in, not permitting the driver to even use their toilet facilities. Is it any wonder the industry is facing a major challenge as many drivers in their forties and fifties leave the industry and are not been replaced with enough people in their twenties and thirties?

From RTÉ Six One News, how a shortage of HGV drivers had led to the closure of UK petrol stations

As is the case with all complex problems, there is no silver bullet or magic wand to fix the global shortage of drivers. The UK lifting visa restrictions to attract drivers from the EU is akin to putting a plaster on a gaping wound. The point is there is a global shortage of HVG drivers and unless we start granting visa restrictions to truck-driving extra terrestrials, this approach will not solve the problem.

A recent study conducted by the School of Management at TU Dublin in conjunction with the Freight Transport Association Ireland, provides some theoretical and practical knowledge of what’s required to attract and retain a sustainable labour force of drivers to sustain transportation services. Some of the findings included

– Several aspects of the HGV drivers’ profession can be pinpointed as issues which negatively influence retention. The degree of respect afforded to drivers in all aspects of their duties, the perceived status of driving roles, the insufficient standard of facilities provided to drivers and the operational burdens frequently experienced can all be considered hindrances in creating gratifying operating conditions.·

From RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime, Conservative MP and qualified fleet Ttansport manager Andrew Bridgen on the British lorry driver crisis

– A lack of opportunity for progression and advancement discourages potential entrants. In addition, a greater emphasis on regulations was also noted as an aspect making the role less appealing than it once was. Both are areas open to improvement.

– A redeployment of the sector’s resources to better educate drivers on some of the soft skills required to look after their own physical and mental health would be beneficial. Such a move would display a greater industry-wide consideration for drivers’ wellbeing, giving recognition to the important, and often taxing, role drivers play in freight transport. The method for recruiting drivers needs to be examined, and the system needs to be more professional, with the opportunity for career progression.

– While a driver’s Certificate of Professional Competence has been implemented in recent years, it is a very broad programme, which is not tailored to a specific operator’s needs and pays little more than lip service to the subject of driver wellbeing.

From LBC’s James O’Brien Show, EU hauliers find UK visa proposal ‘pretty amusing’

– A change in pay structure commensurate with the training and qualifications gained would also be beneficial. This would also have a positive effect on the public perception of the professional sector.

– Clear, measurable training guidelines and qualifications would professionalise this occupation and make it much more attractive to new entrants. Training, education and upskilling are key to having a well informed, well educated and dynamic workforce who feel empowered and recognised for the part they play. Driving apprenticeship programmes would also be hugely beneficial in creating a sustainable workforce.

Indeed, a driving apprenticeship programme is already in the works with the Institute of Technology Sligo as the co-ordinating provider along with a consortium of key industry stakeholders and employers. The first group of apprentices will be undertaking a two year, level six course in January 2022.

From ITV’s This Morning, only 1% of truck drivers are female so what’s required to get more of them behind the wheel?

There is also a huge gender imbalance in HVG driving. In the UK, only between 1% and 3% of truckers are female, with a similar or smaller number across the globe. At the LRN 2020 Conference, Yvonne Sheehan outlined what needs to change so that more women will be interested in considering HVG driving as a career option. She identified the following dominant concerns of female HGV drivers in Ireland;

– Adaptability and flexibility in terms of working hours to achieve an acceptable work life balance

– Lack of facilities for females

– Negative attitudes, abuse, and maltreatment outlined as gender discrimination

– Sexual harassment increases vulnerability for female drivers

– Attitude towards female drivers all make for a very stressful career

– Indicates the need for a better understanding for all stakeholders

– Assist in the removal of gender discrimination and encourage a greater resource pool of drivers to the industry

We must also ask ourselves why has it taken a pandemic and the prospect of empty shelves, to consider the vitally important role of the HGV driver. The public along with the supply chain industry must change their perception of the driver and realise that the supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I don’t see autonomous HGVs making our deliveries to our cities and towns anytime soon!

From ITV’s This Morning, only 1% of truck drivers are female so what’s required to get more of them behind the wheel?

There is also a huge gender imbalance in HVG driving. In the UK, only between 1% and 3% of truckers are female, with a similar or smaller number across the globe. At the LRN 2020 Conference, Yvonne Sheehan outlined what needs to change so that more women will be interested in considering HVG driving as a career option. She identified the following dominant concerns of female HGV drivers in Ireland;

– Adaptability and flexibility in terms of working hours to achieve an acceptable work life balance

– Lack of facilities for females

– Negative attitudes, abuse, and maltreatment outlined as gender discrimination

– Sexual harassment increases vulnerability for female drivers

– Attitude towards female drivers all make for a very stressful career

– Indicates the need for a better understanding for all stakeholders

– Assist in the removal of gender discrimination and encourage a greater resource pool of drivers to the industry

We must also ask ourselves why has it taken a pandemic and the prospect of empty shelves, to consider the vitally important role of the HGV driver. The public along with the supply chain industry must change their perception of the driver and realise that the supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I don’t see autonomous HGVs making our deliveries to our cities and towns anytime soon!



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