Cars queueing for hours outside filling stations, signs on pumps saying ‘No petrol’; it all looks reminiscent of the 1970s when war in the Middle East led to severe fuel shortages in much of the Western World.
However, this time around the tanks at fuel and chemical depots are full; the problem is getting product from A to B, and the finger is being firmly pointed at a drastic shortage of HGV drivers to do that work.
The situation in the UK is hitting the headlines; but shortages are also reported in much of Europe and parts of America.
Logistics consultancy Transport Intelligence (Ti) estimates that the European road freight industry has a driver shortage of around 400,000, with the most heavily affected countries being Poland, the UK and Germany.
The UK is in a particularly difficult position as Brexit encouraged many European workers to return to their native lands. This was then compounded by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in even more workers returning home as fears grew over extended lockdowns.
In response, the British government decided to grant 5,000 temporary HGV driver visas to try and coax some of those EU drivers back to the UK. As many as 150 military road tankers could also be pressed into service to ease immediate pressures.
In reality, though, the country’s logistics industry believes it is too late to do much about the current driver shortage. The emphasis is turning to what can be done to alleviate the problem over the longer term.
The UK’s Chemical Business Association (CBA) has long called for HGV drivers to be included on the British Government’s Shortage Occupation list. While welcoming the Government’s latest moves, Chief Executive Tim Doggett says 5,000 visas “will make little impact between now and Christmas on the UK shortage of up to 100,000 HGV drivers.”
He pointed out that many other issues remain unresolved. For example, drivers of vehicles carrying chemicals or fuel must hold an ADR qualification, and additionally for the carriage of fuel a Petroleum Drivers Passport (PDP). Fuel drivers also require specific safety training covering loading at refineries and for deliveries to depots or garage forecourts.
“Both qualifications and safety training take time to complete,” Doggett adds. “This does not seem to have been considered by the current measures.”
One company taking the initiative to support drivers looking to make the transition from HGV Class 2 to Class 1 driving is bulk carrier Abbey Logistics, based in North-West England.
Abbey launched an ‘earn while you learn’ training programme earlier this year to make obtaining a Class 1 licence easier, and more convenient for drivers.
Achieving a Class 1 licence – necessary to drive a road tanker, for example, – can be a costly and time-consuming endeavour, so the training programme Abbey delivers offers drivers a salaried position throughout the training and guarantees a Class 1 driving role with the company on successful completion of the course.
Just recently three new drivers have joined the business from the first round of trainees, after successfully passing the course.
Once qualified, drivers are supported by an experienced mentor for several months and they receive further in-cab and loading/unloading procedures training, gaining valuable experience in the specialist products Abbey carries.
The company says that since the course was launched, it has received a great deal of interest from Class 2 drivers keen to obtain their Class 1 licence, and thanks to the demand the course has generated, the company has increased the number of drivers it can train on each intake and has courses planned well into next year.
Initiatives such as this can do much to raise the attractiveness of a career in HGV haulage, and that can only be good in the long term. But it also needs a combined and focused effort on the part of industry and Government, the CBA’s Tim Doggett emphasises.
“Government needs to focus on improving the operation of industry’s training and qualification process and its regulatory underpinning,” he says. “We believe it is possible to speed up this process without sacrificing safety which cannot be compromised. Industry must also play its part in the training process, and tackling pay and terms and conditions of employment.”
This extends to the planning system which needs to support the building of new strategically located, accessible, economic, safe, and secure parking with provision of facilities such as showers, toilets and food during day and night, he adds.
Finally, CBA believes society should better respect and recognise the vital role, skills and qualifications of HGV drivers in a country where 98% of all goods travel by road.