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Engendering a culture of respect, funding training programmes and promoting from within may be ways for haulage firms to solve the driver shortage crisis threatening to engulf the UK logistics industry.

Yesterday, in his speech to the British Chambers of Commerce, prime minister David Cameron urged company bosses in the UK to raise workers’ salary levels.

“We’ve got the strongest growth for seven years. We are seeing falling oil prices, meaning businesses up and down the country have lower prices on their inputs. Inflation is at 0.5%. Now that your costs are falling and it’s cheaper to do business, I’m confident that more businesses will pass on that good economic news to their workers, in rising pay cheques and higher earnings,” he said.

His words reflected much of the sentiment coming from haulage bosses. Speaking to The Loadstar, haulage directors said the challenge of earning the right margins to be able to reinvest into delivery networks continued, despite upturn in the sector’s economic prospects.

Graham Short, managing director of Walkers Transport, said: “In terms of volumes, we are optimistic about the UK economy and the areas we service – the general activity, levels are higher, and confidence is solid compared with last year. Demand is gradually increasing, but it remains a challenge for us to achieve the margins to cope with the growth.”

He described the current attitudes towards the sector as almost paradoxical.

“There’s quite a negative vibe about the sector at the moment, which is odd given that it is actually a growth sector and one that is increasingly sophisticated – the good news is that there is plenty of work.”

However, the recruitment of younger drivers remains one of the company’s principal challenges, despite the fact that wages are on the increase as firms try to establish a continued supply of younger drivers into their businesses.

“The money is certainly available – a young driver can look to earn £25,000 a year with class 1 licence – but there isn’t a great deal of joined-up thinking in the sector. End customers and  major suppliers show relatively little flexibility in helping hauliers and insurance premiums for younger drivers continue to rise, for example,” he said.

Mr Short added that Walkers had adopted a policy of putting its younger drivers, who typically began their careers with class 2 and class 3 licences, through as much training as possible.

Walkers Transport managing director Graham Short

Walkers Transport managing director Graham Short


“We have a policy of promoting from within – it is easier to recruit class 2 and 3 drivers and entice them with training programmes to get the class 1 licence. You get a bit of loyalty and it allows you to develop a retention policy. Perhaps government schemes would help feed the system.

“If you treat drivers well in areas such as welfare and choosing the right equipment for them, you are rewarded,” he said.

Mike Farrall, chairman of Farrall’s Transport, agreed that it was not simply a question of pay, but also the way divers were perceived by society.

“It’s not about the money. Good rates are being offered across the industry, but I believe the problem is more closely related to the way drivers are regarded and treated. Do we, collectively, as consumers and as commercial organisations dependent on an efficiently run logistics sector, fully appreciate the increasing pressures, demands and constraints placed upon drivers in their everyday work?” he asked.

He argued that the exponential growth of e-commerce retailing, and the huge pressure that would place on the supply chain, would further accentuate the pressures on drivers.

Farrall's Transport chairman Mike Farrall

Farrall’s Transport chairman Mike Farrall


“Beyond anything else, we all need to treat our drivers with a higher level of respect – and that’s across all sectors of commerce and industry. These are people doing their daily work to the best of their ability and we should respect them for it. If we could just stop and appreciate what they do to keep our supply chains moving, and demonstrate that appreciation rather than just expecting more from them, then surely we would send a message to the young that being a driver is a worthwhile and rewarding career,” he said.

He called for warehouse loading and unloading times to be shortened so the delays drivers experienced due to road congestion would be less stressful; and he called for more driver amenities while they waited at distribution centres.

“When vehicles are being unloaded, should drivers be left standing in the rain as they so often are? Or for those offered shelter, could more inviting waiting rooms be provided? After all, drivers are expected to work long days – a few creature comforts would help.”

Meanwhile, demand for full-load and palletised transport, as well as consumer deliveries, continues to rise, while the supply of drivers continues to contract. According to one research body, 205 million home deliveries were expected to take place during November and December, up from 177m the year before, while the Road Haulage Association estimates there is current shortfall of 60,000 drivers, which could rise to 257,000 by 2022.

And most firms remain sceptical that this glaring gap could be covered by subcontractors or agency drivers.

Mr Short said: “We do use some subcontractors to cope with the peaks, but we try to avoid agencies at all times because it is inefficient – they don’t know us; they don’t know the runs; and there’s an inherent risk of taking on someone you don’t know, especially in a role that is so customer-facing.”

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  • steve

    April 16, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    In Canada the better companies those paying $24.00 per hour plus overtime after 44 hours have truck drivers lined up to drive for them. One union employer had over 300 apply for 5 temp position May to November at wage of about $1,500 per week gross or $1,075 after taxes and off Sundays. other companies paying under $20.00 per hour for Dz or Az have empty trucks. The shortage is all about pay and treatment. One grocery store chain banned truck drivers like myself who wanted to be paid for the hours worked. We took the chain to court. 5193578686

  • Karl

    May 30, 2015 at 6:46 am

    I do agency driving part time and unfortunately as a HGV driver you are seen as ‘working class’ and are perceived as some kind of socio-economic failure, like this is the best you can do with your life, people look down on you and don’t appreciate what you go through to get their goods to them, not to mention the restrictions everywhere, other motorists who have no consideration, and militant cyclists who think they own the entire road, then you have the haulage company calling you finding out where you are and why you aren’t back yet, then there’s teh maintenance of the trucks, I’ve gotten into some wrecks with defects all over it, but you’re still expected to drive it, I could not do this job full time, I’d have a nervous breakdown.