According to the Road Haulage Association, there are now an estimated 100,000 vacancies across the HGV sector. The recent government announcement granting visas for 5,000 EU drivers can be compared to applying a sticking plaster over a gaping wound.
There are a number of key factors which have led to the current crisis. This includes the Brexit effect, the departure of European Union drivers and the very real fact that the pandemic has hampered driver training and access to driving tests.
However, the shortage of professional drivers is not a new or sudden effect. It has been an issue for the road haulage industry for many years, caused by a combination of systemic problems including pay, conditions and the image of the industry.
So where are we now?
The last few days have highlighted the severity of the situation, with queues at petrol stations and empty shelves in the supermarkets.
Whilst the former can be attributed to panic buying – there is no shortage of fuel in this country – the core message remains the same. Everything we buy involves a road journey somewhere in its supply chain. We are woefully short of qualified professionals to deliver that link.
And thereby hangs the tale. The very image of the job itself needs to be upgraded. We need to work to improve the whole image of the industry, to attract more people. Including many more women (only 1% of truck drivers are female) – to look at driving as a career. That requires a sustained effort and investment in both facilities and awareness.
Poor facilities for drivers hinders recruitment
This brings us to suitable facilities on the road. The lack of appropriate clean shower and toilet facilities, the lack and often high costs cost of suitable safe parking and rest areas present real problems for drivers whose cabs can be their homes for the working week.
This impacts significantly on the attraction of driving as a career choice. There isn’t a quick fix, but maybe the current crisis will result in improved pay and conditions for those men and women who work day and night to ensure the rest of us have access to the goods and services we need to manage our own lives.