Bus and Coach Features & Interviews Logistics Policy Trailer Truck Van

How and why to plug the skills gap in road transport

13 March 2014 #Bus and Coach #Features & Interviews #Logistics #Policy #Trailer #Truck #Van

Following National Apprenticeship Week and a warning from the CBI that many sectors face a skills vacuum, Transport News Brief takes a look at the need for talent and training at the sharp end of the logistics sector.


Operators that forget to ensure their van drivers are properly trained are liable to face higher fuel and accident damage bills and end up fielding a stream of phone calls and e-mails from disgruntled customers. Working with a vehicle manufacturer, that is something Iceland Foods has cottoned on to in the wake of its return to the online shopping arena.

Its home delivery drivers are being trained at a £250,000 Centre of Excellence sponsored by Mercedes-Benz. The centre is next door to Iceland’s headquarters on Deeside, which also happens to be next door to Mercedes dealer Road Range; the food retailer is steadily replacing all of its 1,300 home delivery vans with Mercedes Sprinter 313CDI chassis cabs fitted with refrigerated box bodies.

The initial two-day course starts with centre Training Manager, Simon Pill, spelling out the vital role drivers play as ambassadors for Iceland and the way they should deal with the public. “The doorstep delivery is likely to be the only direct interaction online shoppers have with a representative of our business,” he points out.

As a consequence drivers need to be courteous at all times, and that means when they are on the road as well as knocking on the front door.

The drivers then receive some practical instruction from experienced trainers with the emphasis on anticipatory and defensive driving techniques. Not only do they result in fuel savings, says Pill, they mean lower maintenance bills too.

The training the drivers receive is based on modules designed for truck drivers working towards the Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC); something all truckers will need by law if they wish to continue working from September onwards. It involves 35 hours of formal training and with all truck drivers needing to obtain their CPC by September, some businesses may be neglecting non-mandatory van driver training.

Failure to meet the deadline will make the existing lack of truck drivers worse than it is already. It is severe now says Dr Ross Moloney, Chief Executive Officer at Skills for Logistics, the sector skills council for the logistics industry.

“It is no longer the case that we have a ticking time-bomb so far as the shortage of truck drivers is concerned,” he contends. “The bomb has gone off and hauliers are struggling to recruit.

“One employment agency has gone to Portugal to find drivers in a bid to plug the gap,” Moloney continues. “If you are a small- to medium-size haulage company then it seems almost to be accepted that you will fail to recruit good people.”

Pay is an issue but it is not the sole reason for the shortfall.

Anti-social hours, the way in which truck drivers are perceived by the general public and poor working conditions are among other reasons.

A key difficulty is the sheer cost of obtaining an LGV licence. Anybody wanting to learn to drive an artic from scratch and funding it themselves is likely to be faced with a bill for several thousand pounds before they obtain their licence; money they may not have.

Another is the unwillingness of insurers to cover truck drivers who are under 25. As a consequence people in their late teens and early twenties often feel they have no choice but to embark on another career because they need to earn a living.

To help address the shortfall Skills for Logistics is working with the military to encourage individuals leaving the armed forces to enter the logistics industry.

It is not the only organisation to do so. Last year saw National Express guarantee to offer job interviews to all service leavers.

“We’re talking to Jobcentre Plus about the possibility of funding for licence acquisition but another route we’re thinking about is setting up a credit union so that prospective drivers can obtain loans to pay for their training at reasonable rates,” says Moloney. “So far as insurance is concerned, we’ve brought in an insurance specialist who is working on a product that can take away the pain.”

“Insurance is one of the big stumbling blocks but some insurers appear to be easing the barriers,” says Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Chief Executive, Steve Agg.

In a bid to boost awareness of the sector and the careers it offers, the institute is playing a lead role so far as the UK is concerned in the first-ever European Supply Chain Day on 10 April. Activities such as school visits, tours of warehouses and talks on the logistics business will be taking place across Britain and throughout Europe.

Drivers are not the only people the logistics business requires in order to keep the wheels rolling.

Last October saw parcel carrier City Link recruit 80 new apprentices with 63 working in warehousing and 17 in customer contact centres. Perhaps some of them will be the senior managers of the future, and that is another problem facing the logistics business; middle and senior managers with the right skill sets are in short supply.

At least one company is growing its own.

“We recruit a dozen graduates a year on a fast-track programme,” says Mike Bridges, Managing Director of Norbert Dentressangle Transport and Distribution UK. “In addition we’ve got apprentices all around the business because we’re conscious that there is a growing skill shortage across the industry.

“All of our truck drivers will have their CPCs by September and we’re delivering training to third parties too.”

One of the big challenges for companies that have gone to the expense of recruiting and training staff is retaining them. A survey produced last year on behalf of People 1st, the sector skills council for passenger transport, travel, tourism and hospitality, revealed that frontline staff – ie those dealing with the public – were the ones most likely to leave, with turnover running at an average 23%.

Bus drivers who have to deal with drunken and/or aggressive passengers on a Friday night in any big city would not be in the least surprised. The survey also revealed however that frontline staff were the ones most likely to stay if they were offered regular and relevant training; including being shown ways of defusing nasty situations on the last bus out of the town centre.

Training however costs money.

Those who responded to the survey felt that their training budgets would need to increase 43% on average to improve retention. “Based on current spend, passenger transport companies would need to spend £2,300 a year on each member of frontline staff to retain those joining the industry now,” People 1st observes.

Against that however has to be set the cost of advertising for and interviewing recruits to fill the gaps create by the departed; and money spent on good-quality training is seldom wasted.

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