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The HGV driver shortage: A solution in sight?

The HGV driver shortage: A solution in sight?

The ongoing shortage of HGV drivers in the UK is proving an increasing concern for haulier and distribution companies. Mounting pressure from an evolving, ever more demanding retail landscape has taken a toll on the profession’s appeal, having attracted recent scrutiny from the media as a result of rogue methods resorted to by some to keep ahead. Combined with today’s political uncertainties, the shortage has the potential to worsen before it gets better. But is recruiting more drivers the complete answer, what can be done now to minimise driver shortages?

In the UK, haulage associations estimate a current shortfall of 45,000–60,000 drivers, with another 40,000 of what has become an ageing workforce due to leave the industry by the end of this year. A recent inquiry by the Transport Committee pointed to particular problems in distribution, where 91% of companies surveyed by the Freight Transport Association reported difficulties in recruiting drivers.

While there are many thousands of people in the UK with HGV licences, many have chosen not to drive professionally as a result of a combination of factors, it reports. These include the cost of acquiring a licence in the first place, lack of investment in drivers' training, poor working terms (renumeration), and inadequate roadside facilities. Throw into the mix current uncertainties resulting from Brexit, and haulier and distribution companies could see the shortage exacerbated for some time.

Recent headlines suggest fewer migrants are seeing the benefits of coming to England for work, which has most recently been reported within the fruit and vegetable harvesting industry. Many haulier and distribution companies have traditionally looked to Europe for a proportion of their employees and so the potential disruption of Brexit, combined with the ongoing struggle to recruit, is forcing organisations to reconsider their options. How can driver grievances be addressed in order to retain existing staff, while also improving efficiencies to uphold – and even surpass – current levels of productivity to meet increasing demand?

The starting point for any organisation is to first ensure its existing fleet is running at optimum efficiency, profitability and compliance, making the most from the resource it already has before looking to take on more. John Lewis Partner increased delivery capacity by 35% through effective route planning and optimisation.

To maximise delivery capacity without adding drivers road transport operators must move to a ‘joined up’ model of drivers’ hours compliance management and route optimisation for effective, end-to-end information sharing.

By moving beyond siloed deployments, there is significant additional potential to drive greater efficiency gains minimising the need to recruit new drivers. But this can only be achieved if organisations embrace a strategic approach to technologies and proactively extend real time information and electronic processing across the entire operation. For example, using digital tachographs to manage driver hours is key to reducing the chances of breaking the law. Yet this information is also valuable outside the traditional compliance management remit, and should form an essential component in optimising road transport operations. Feeding drivers’ hours data into route planning software ensures this information is included within the planning process by default.

With this aspect of the process automatically taken into account, the schedule can be planned far more efficiently – there is no need for drivers to park up in laybys for a rest or to wait for scheduled delivery slots due to the excessive contingency built into the schedule. Critically, no company or driver will have to face the choice between breaking drivers’ hours law and breaking a customer delivery promise either.

There is a tangible opportunity for organisations to move beyond siloed fleet management. By streamlining operations, road transport operators can offset some of the pressure from an increasing driver shortage, for the benefit of the organisation, their existing workforce, and indeed the industry as a whole.

For more examples of how Descartes can help road transport organisations optimise existing resources and offset the effects of the UK’s burgeoning driver shortage, contact us.