Julie Graham, CEO of Ingeus’ Employment Services, considers the causes, effects and solutions to the current crisis engulfing the logistics sector...
 
However you choose to get your news, one thing is certain: if the crisis in the logistics sector is not the top item, it’s not far off.
 
As consumers, we are all feeling the effects. Fuel shortages, empty supermarket shelves and difficulty in getting quick delivery of online goods. Let’s not even think about problems getting hold of that ‘must-have’ toy or organic turkey for Christmas. But this is not a new problem.
 
The logistics sector, particularly when it comes to heavy goods, has been staring into the abyss of driver shortages for years. Now a complex and interlinked combination of factors has pushed it over the edge.
 
The Road Haulage Association estimates the country is 90,000 people short in the number of HGV drivers it needs. And the number of courier drivers and riders available has dropped by a third since the start of the summer, with many ditching their temporary delivery jobs as retail and hospitality venues get back up to speed.
 
There is no silver bullet to solve this problem. It has been a long time in the making and could take a long time to overcome. It needs innovative thinking and new approaches – something that’s part of our DNA at Ingeus and within the employability sector.
 
One current pilot we’re running in Manchester shows, in a microcosm, how barriers to work can be removed to help, in this case, a major new online grocery retailer find the delivery drivers it needs. As part of the Government’s Restart Scheme to find work for those who have been hardest hit by the pandemic, we had a pool of suitable people but many didn’t have licences, most had never ridden a motorbike, and none could afford the training, the bike and the kit.
 
But within three weeks they were delivering groceries around the city because:
 
They highlighted their transferable skills – we set great store at getting people not to take a narrow view of their employment expectations and while riding a motorbike is a skill that can be learned – as is reversing an 18-wheeler into a loading bay – the applicants could demonstrate they had safety awareness, good people skills and were well-organised.
 
The barriers to employment were removed, by Ingeus and the employer – we helped them apply for licences and arranged motorbike training paid for through the Restart Scheme. The company provided the bikes and the equipment and guaranteed jobs for all those who completed the training successfully.
 
These approaches are resulting in our participants finding sustainable, full-time jobs; the employer is getting the work-ready, motivated drivers it needs; and the people of Manchester access super-fast delivery of the bread and milk they find themselves short of.
 
But this is an industry-wide crisis that requires an industry-wide approach. It needs to:
  • highlight the benefits of being a driver, including the sheer number and variety of opportunities, from driving a 32-tonne truck long distance to delivering meals on two wheels
  • offer greater flexibility so that working hours suit a wider variety of people – currently less than three per cent of truck drivers are women, for example
  • remove barriers to work by offering in-house driver training where possible and build on current initiatives being undertaken by the Driving Standards Agency to enable more people with disabilities to work in the sector
  • develop an industry-wide recruitment campaign that instils a sense of pride in the job by building on the national realisation that delivery drivers play a key role in our everyday lives – in just the same way that the esteem of health workers has been raised because of the pandemic
  • offer authentic career paths – ambitious drivers should be able to see a route into transport manager and planner roles
  • take advantage of Government support to offer apprenticeships and other training schemes to encourage younger people into the sector – currently only one per cent of HGV drivers are under 25
  • work with the insurance industry to remove financial barriers to newly qualified drivers accessing insurance
  • recognise the value of the employability sector in finding work-ready and motivated candidates, as well as those in the wider supply chain sector.
 
Government measures will help to ease the situation in the short term by allowing more foreign workers into the UK from October and bringing in Ministry of Defence examiners to increase the number of HGV driving tests. But short-termism is the blight of many crisis solution initiatives so the sector needs to work together to find a long-term answer to this shared problem.