Julian Bailey_Gist

Gist said it had seen a big rise in applications for driver vacancies since the launch of its sign-on bonus and rejected claims that such schemes have only led to poaching between competing operators.

The temperature-controlled logistics specialist has been offering up to £5,000 to HGV drivers this month in a bid to boost numbers and ensure continued deliveries to key customers, including Marks & Spencer.

New drivers get a £2,000 sign-on bonus and up to three additional retention payments for continued service, amounting to a total of £5,000.

"Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a significant level of increase in applicants," confirmed Gist MD Julian Bailey (pictured). "In some regions we’ve seen up to a tenfold increase. Some don’t have full qualifications, as in they're not a Class C + E or C driver, but over the course of the last three weeks we’ve seen a marked increase in applicants and a slowdown of individuals leaving. In the main the scheme has been very much welcomed."

Gist, which employs over 2,000 drivers, is also offering new recruits a benefits package which includes a “generous” pension scheme, sick pay, employee discounts and progression and development opportunities.

Read more

However, Bailey insisted the scheme was also aimed at Gist's existing drivers: "The key aspect was purely to retain our own people," he said. "We'd had a number of individuals leaving - many through retirement or to take on opportunities outside the UK market. But we’re not actively going out poaching. We want to be an employer of choice but we want to develop new people into the industry.

“How we develop our driver pools will be the critical success. We offered £3,000 to retain not only new drivers but also existing drivers. So there are significant investments going on around our driver training school and 'Warehouse to Wheels' programme - developing people through various schemes. That’s probably where our bigger focus is now; how we push those concepts forward."

Asked how well Gist was dealing with the driver shortage, Bailey said it varied by region. "I would certainly say that within East Anglia, which is a high produce food sector, the demand for drivers has been extreme and has a higher proportion of east European labour. This has been  impacted by Brexit - and by IR35 and the sub-contracting nature of the activity in the area.

"East Anglia is where we have had to work collaboratively with our customers. We’re all competing for the same drivers. It was critical to use the training school to bring them through in this geography. You need a mid- to-long term plan, so how we train and recruit new blood and make the industry more attractive has to be the way forward."

Key current concerns among drivers, he added, centred on sufficient levels of flexibility: "It’s not the value of the scheme, it's more about flexibility and working hours," he said. "What drivers are looking for is flexible rotas and they want to feel valued. We’re doing what we can to listen."

Bailey also criticised the government for not going far enough to ease the shortage. "There needs to be more education and market awareness that could be driven by the government," he said. "Central government could change the way it markets the sector. They could do more to bring the industry to life in the way they market and support it. What they’re looking for is companies coming together collaboratively in their regions to bring new entrants into the market and we’ve all got a collective responsibility to do that."