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Opinion: challenge of being short handed

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Solving driver shortages demands a multifaceted approach by managers

Opinion: challenge of being short handed
Roz Shaw


The transport industry has a good track record for taking a progressive approach to addressing its own problems, and this has seen the industry evolve to meet changing conditions and demands.

Not all companies are equal, however, and this may have some bearing on the widely reported driver shortage. There are regional areas where stable, well-established trucking businesses are not experiencing driver shortages. I think the quality of the operator definitely makes a difference: a company that is doing the right thing by its drivers is an employer whose people are happy to stay with them and who can attract talent.

As an industry, we have improved working conditions for long distance drivers. We’ve moved from a driver sleeping in his cab and taking a few days to reach his destination to having midway changeovers that enable drivers to spend one night away and be back at their home on the second night.

Practices around loading and unloading have changed too. Long haul drivers today don’t usually load or unload their own trucks, they do the driving and log off, handing the job on to another transport worker or leaving it to be carried out in the depot.

We have had to make long distance work more appealing, and comfort in cabins and new types of vehicles help with that too. From the industry perspective we have done a pretty good job, but the driver shortage situation hasn’t changed a great deal in the past 20 years. More needs to be done.

There are issues at both extremes of the age spectrum. I talk to a lot of operators and many of them bring up the issue of licensing and insurance for young and up-and-coming drivers. They feel that young people are being deterred from becoming long distance drivers because regulations make compliance with insurance requirements a Catch 22 situation. Drivers must have three years’ experience of driving a B-double to qualify for insurance protection, so how does a young person gain this experience?

They get their car licence, then their heavy vehicle licence, then their B-double licence which enables them to drive the vehicle for local deliveries but they either can’t drive the long distance jobs because they don’t’ have the experience to qualify for insurance cover, or they can’t get access to the bigger vehicles to log the experience because they’re confined to doing local deliveries and their employers naturally deploy the B-doubles on long hauls.

The issue of qualifications and training needs to be revisited. And it’s not necessarily always the younger drivers that have incidents, it’s more about how can we train them better and what modifications to the regulations or insurance laws can enable companies to get younger people into the industry.

At present what happens is school leavers who want to be drivers invest a couple of years into getting a heavy vehicle licence and then another couple of years into gaining experience, and often they then give up because they’re advancing in age but not in seniority in the industry. By the time they’re 25 they have moved on to a different career.

At the other extreme of the driver shortage issue – and I might get shot down for this – I think people sometimes underestimate the age that a driver should retire.

Transport has an ageing workforce and, as in any other industry, just because a driver reaches 60 it doesn’t mean they should stop driving. My own father drove until he was 78, but people do start to query the value of drivers when they hit 60. And if a senior driver tries to change employers they will find it much, much more difficult: there is ageism in transport as well as other sectors.

I think that’s just shooting yourself in the foot. Older, more experienced drivers are statistically safer and in any case all drivers have a mandatory medical, quite a detailed examination, every year. Because our industry is quite heavily legislated these tests are conducted by qualified evaluators.

Modern vehicles and improved load restraints have also taken some of the physical elements out of the role. This should also mean that more women can be encouraged into the industry.

Drivers don’t become bad drivers or more inherently risky when they turn 60. Quite the opposite in fact. When I was running my family transport business older guys were often our best drivers. They knew what they were doing, they didn’t feel they had anything to prove, they just went out and did a great job day after day.

Ultimately, it’s a rewarding industry to be involved in; making entry a little easier and exit not as mandatory would go a long way to improve the current driver shortages.

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