The Driver Famine
Barry Lyons
What most companies are seeing as a driver shortage is in actual fact a loss of a complete labour force unfolding before them. It can be likened to the change from horse drawn carriages to the change over to the motor vehicle. There are many factors at play here and the road transport industry has not kept pace with the effects of the changes that were introduced in the past four decades and in turn has found that while demand for its labour requirement is increasing the labour force willing and capable of servicing the industry is decreasing.There are more drivers leaving the industry than taking up the role of professional driver.    
The issue of differentiating between a driver and professional drivers is an issue that all of the stakeholders in the road transport industry have failed to address. Post the introduction of tail lifts and other mechanical handling devices, most HGV drivers were accompanied by a helper. In due course, the helper invariably became a HGV driver. Helpers were actually being trained to deal with the many issues that the professional driver had to take responsibility for and therefore had an actual understanding of the role rather than today’s new breed of HGV drivers who only have an academic understanding. It could have been said at that time that being a helper was a form of apprenticeship. It must also be remembered that most companies up to the early 80’s were unionised and that there were structures of seniority and skills recognition in place. Licenced road haulage companies were only beginning to enter the market after deregulation and were embracing the labour savings that mechanisation brought. This invariably led to the demise of the helper. Along with the reduction in the standards of training which the EU recognised in the 90’s and introduced the 2003/59 regulation to address this. However, as the wheels of the EU turned slowly we only saw this regulation come into force in 2008. This was just as the European financial crisis took hold and much of the construction labour force lost their work and took up HGV driving as a work option, as a result of having grandfather rights on their pre-2008 HGV licences. Now that the construction industry is growing again, we will see more and more drivers taking up better paid work with better social hours in the construction industry.
The role of today’s professional driver is a complex one and it needs to be understood by all the stake holders in the industry. In vehicle technological and logistical advances along with the regulatory requirements governing the industry and a growing customer focused driven performance demand has created a complex situation which has effectively failed to address the role of the modern day professional driver. To this end, in order to create a labour force capable and willing to enter the industry there is a requirement to create a steering group to flesh out the multifaceted role of the modern day professional driver and recognise the standards that they hold and that can be aspired to.  

For those who believe that technology will solve the problem they should look as the recent news from Daimler Benz* who shelved their Platooning programme due to the real world realities of our road transport industry.  
This is a significant issue that has to be grasped, considered and effectively dealt with in order to meet the needs of society in the future.
We would welcome your view or opinion on this matter. Email