Serious labour shortages ahead warns FTA

London, UK: The Freight Transport Association’s latest Logistics Skills Report 2019 reveals that the sector is facing serious labour shortages over the next five to 10 years.

HGV drivers are “becomingly increasingly hard to recruit” as older drivers retire and problems persist in recruiting younger people. Not enough young people are considering logistics, especially driving, as a career, says the FTA.

There are several reasons for this, including the cost of licence acquisition, lack of understanding of the sector, poor sector image, working hours and a lack of quality driver facilities. Another factor is the reliance on labour from the EU within various roles.

A major concern is that logistics businesses are struggling to fill vacancies due to a lack of skills, qualifications and experience among applicants. Specialist skills or knowledge and the ability to manage their own time and prioritise were the skills most lacking among applicants to logistics roles, according to FTA members.

The continuing fall in people undertaking apprenticeships in general, and logistics apprenticeships in particular, is also not helpful in addressing labour shortages and skills gaps, warns FTA.

Overall, the number of people employed in logistics fell by around 18,397, or 0.7%, in the year to Q1 2019, while the number of HGV drivers was down 15,859, or 5%, year on year. However, the reliance on labour from EU workers within various roles has so far helped mitigate the fall in the total number of UK nationals working in the logistics sector.

The trend towards automation is addressed in the report. Van driver jobs are identified as being at risk from automation, mainly related to more automated routeing and planning, as well as new technologies aimed at last mile logistics. A survey of 448 FTA members was carried out in July this year in which they were asked a series of questions on skills and automation.

Around 38% of respondents expected some logistics roles to be fully or semi-automated in the next five years; 36% stated that automation would have a positive impact on the role and responsibilities of transport managers, with 40% indicating they had not thought about it. Those surveyed referred to tasks and not “roles”, reflecting the transformational rather than the destructive nature of automation on jobs.

Although driver roles (van, forklift and HGV) may be at risk, it is not the role itself but specific elements of the job, such as vehicle walkaround. The shortage issue does not just affect HGV drivers. Consistent with the overall reduction in logistics employees in Q1 2019, compared to Q1 2018, other roles in the industry have also seen a fall in numbers. Purchasing managers and directors, importers and exporters, transport distribution clerks and assistants and postal workers all fell in number.

FTA chief executive David Wells says: “Since 2008, the most notable shifts in job growth were for warehouse and storage occupations, as well as van drivers and managers and directors in transport and distribution. This reflects the growing requirement for more warehouse space and deliveries from online retailing.”

Manpower, which sponsored the report, said: “We are reaching a critical point that, without action, will see the movement of goods, services and people grind to a halt.”

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