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The problems of recruiting younger people into the haulage industry, as a way of solving the driver shortage crisis, was revealed by a new report released by a UK Parliamentary group yesterday.
The all-party Parliamentary group for freight transport yesterday published Barriers to Youth Employment in the Freight Transport Sector, its final report before the country votes in a general election in May, after which the group could comprise different personnel.
The chairman of the group, Stoke-on-Trent MP Rob Flello, said that considerable obstacles remained in terms of attracting workers in the 16-24 age bracket to the logistics industry, particularly at HGV driver level, despite almost one million young people not being in employment, education or training – the so-called NEETs.
The group’s research found that just 2% of all HGV drivers are under the age of 25, with 60% over 45.
“There is a huge disparity between these two groups – we have so many people over 45 and over 60, and almost none under 25,” Mr Fello told MPs and industry figures assembled for the report’s launch.
“It is also striking that there are actually slightly more managing directors in transport and distribution businesses that are under the age of 25 than there are HGV divers, which just shows how many barriers there are to getting young people driving,” he continued.
One of the most fundamental problems that the freight and logistics industry has to overcome is its lack of visibility to wider society – people, particularly younger people, simply do not know it exists. A lack of awareness of the road haulage sector, which is by far and away the single largest segment of the logistics industry and estimated to be worth £42bn a year, was “repeatedly highlighted” in individuals’ and businesses’ submissions to the group.
“While the general public has some awareness of the drivers and the role that they play in the movement of goods, they are generally unaware of the roles which are required to sustain a fleet of commercial vehicles,” the report said.
The sector had suffered from repeated governments’ focus on university education over and above vocational courses, the report said. “Logistics is too often considered to be a job of last resort. Through pursuit of this agenda and highlighting university places as a marker for education quality, government may have devalued skills that are crucial to the economy.”
This had combined with an institutional failure to provide young people with adequate career guidance, the report noted, pointing to a recent Confederation of British Industry report which concluded: “The quality of careers advice in schools remains in severe crisis. For 93 out of 100 young people to not feel in possession of the facts they need to make informed choices about the future is a damning indictment.”
Mr Flello added: “Unless you have a parent that works in the sector it is one that you have probably never come across in your career guidance.”
And many employers also questioned the quality of qualifications and training young people receive, with some 16% of companies employing staff “that they consider not to be fully proficient,” with a third of companies saying that a lack of skills has led to increased operating costs and a quarter believing that have lost business to competitors.
[The report also contains the following assertion, which is more profoundly shocking than possibly anything directly covers the freight industry, from Lord Sandy Leitch’s 2006 review of UK skills which found that a third of UK adults lack the equivalent basic school leaving qualification, half lack numeracy skills and one in seven are not functionally literate. Which. Is. Shocking.]
However, there are grounds for optimism. The recent decision to raise the minimum school leaving age to 18 ought to be a chance to increase the numbers attending vocational training courses rather than academic education, and, combined with the reduction of the age limit for an HGV licence to 18, could provide a route for more young people to train as drivers.
“It is now possible that on leaving education a young person could now go straight into the logistics sector as a driver. The government should consult with industry and education providers to explore vocational programmes which could be undertaken by individuals before they reach the age when they can obtain the relevant licences,” the report suggested, but also warned that the costs of training courses and insurance for younger drivers could be prohibitive
“Contrary to this aspiration, the costs of insurance for the under-25s means that almost no school leavers will become drivers,” it asserted.
As a result, probably two of its most important and tangible recommendations concern insurance cost and the extension of the student loans system to cover vocational training courses.
“The existing student loans system should be extended to students who wish to undertake training courses provided by accredited organisations, and the level of funding for apprenticeships to age 24.
“The government [also] needs to engage with insurers to determine the factors which are causing insurance costs related to young drivers to be exponentially higher than for other drivers, and develop a strategy to bring these costs down,” it said.
It really is a ticking time bomb, as highlighted by this quote from a submission by Skills for Logistics: “A fifth of the current LGV workforce will reach retirement age in the next 10 years. That’s approximately 75,000 drivers and this does not include those that will have licences revoked or curtailed or even those that will leave the professions for other job opportunities.
“But the number gaining a licence is decreasing year-on-year. The data shows a 45% fall in the number obtaining a LGV licence in a five-year period, and it appears that only 20% are acquiring their initial driver CPC. This therefore does not come close to replacing those that are anticipated to leave the profession.”