Manpower academy

Leading employment agency Manpower is doing its bit to ease the shortage of HGV drivers by launching a Driver Academy, which it hopes will train over 400 new drivers every year. Steve Hobson reports.

As operators have found it harder to find good drivers they have become increasingly reliant on agency staff to fill shifts, in turn putting pressure on the agencies to find more drivers.

Manpower operations director Jason Greaves (pictured below) has been responsible for the agency’s driving division for four years and knows the barriers for young people thinking of driving trucks are high including the £3,000 upfront cost of acquiring a category C+E HGV licence and the perception of long, unsociable hours.

“The skills shortage has accelerated in the last 18 months as companies stockpiled in anticipation of Brexit,” he says. “The FTA estimate the shortfall is between 50,000 and 55,000 drivers, costing the transport sector just short of £150m a year. We have been working with some of our key clients and candidates to work out the best way to help deliver a solution.”

Using nearly 80 training locations around the UK, Manpower is committed to reducing training time from eight months to just three months and providing logistics and distribution organisations with a source of newly qualified drivers to tap into. It says it has 4,500 “job-ready candidates” and hopes to put 10% of these through their HGV licences each year.

Jason Greaves

Less than 2% of current HGV drivers are under 25, a statistic Greaves calls “alarming”. “One of the keys has to be how do we get some of the younger population engaged and wanting to drive HGVs,” he says. “This is what the Driver Academy will hopefully achieve.”

Manpower has partnered with national training provider Specialised Training Services (STS) to deliver HGV driver licence acquisition which can funded in a variety of ways.

“Manpower is looking at ways we can support the funding for drivers to get their HGV licence,” says Greaves. “That could be in partnership with STS as they offer a funding option which can be paid off over 48 months. The onus will still be on the candidate to find the money but it does not have to be paid upfront.

“This partnership will give every candidate a programme manager to support that individual all the way through the process.”

Quite apart from getting their HGV licence – and the first time pass rate for HGV tests is only 41% - another problem freshly minted HGV drivers face is finding an employer willing to give them that all important first job.

Fully trained

“Manpower wants a portfolio of fully trained drivers,” says Greaves. “At the end of the three months training we will have a job-ready candidate that we can place into work because we are seeing shortages in most categories of driving licences. We can’t guarantee a role but we are improving the chances of these individuals finding work.”

“We spoke to all our key clients ahead of peak last year and there was a clear understanding among most if not all hauliers that they need to relax their requirement for one year’s experience. There is a real interest among many of our clients in developing new drivers and they are changing their views gradually.”

Greaves sees an opportunity to train up existing van drivers serving the booming home delivery market to drive trucks but warns the employment model in this market is different.

Manpower academy 2

“A lot of home delivery drivers are self-employed,” he says. “Obviously that might change in the coming year but so far it hasn’t been as difficult to find van drivers as it is to find HGV drivers. That is one of our key markets that we can up-skill because we supply a lot of van drivers. We want them to come in as a LCV driver and go out as an HGV driver with the better wages and career that commands.”

As well as making it easier for new drivers to get their licences there is a growing acceptance that wages have to rise to encourage more young people to see driving as a worthwhile career. It is debatable whether the influx of east European drivers – often ‘self-employed’ or working for agencies – has been at least partly responsible for keeping a lid on driver wages, but there is a perception among many young people that truck driving involves having to work long hours to earn a decent wage, driving on over-crowded roads and having to endure poor roadside facilities.

“Interestingly, looking at the latest Manpower Employment Outlook survey, those sectors with skills shortages generally see salaries rise dramatically as organisations fight for the available talent,” says Greaves. “We’ve seen a small increase in drivers’ pay in the last two or three years but not the increase that we would have expected. We are starting to see it on a regional basis, and some areas with logistics hubs are seeing some really aggressive hourly rate increases.”

Hotspots and spikes

As well as regional hotspots, the Christmas peak can see driver rates spike, only to fall back in the new year when the driver shortage eases or even disappears.

“That’s another challenge,” admits Greaves. “If we employ an extra 30,000 or 40,000 people in the lead up to Christmas and 80% of those are put back onto the job market in January, and we are still saying there is a 50,000 skills gap, then it doesn’t quite add up.

“Some drivers could be in the wrong areas of the UK where the vacancies don’t match the availability. But we are never going to overcome spikes in demand. We are just coming to up Easter and we have unfilled orders that we are looking for candidates to fill.

“If we put more drivers onto the market that will help, but there is no magic wand to solve the driver shortage which is at its highest from August to December. Everyone in this sector has a role to play to generate a more positive perception about the job of driving an HGV.”

Is there really a driver shortage or just a shortage of decent employers? asks former owner driver Kevin Swallow

Kevin Swallow

For too long the road transport industry sat on its hands while ageing and alienated lorry drivers left the haulage industry in their droves.

Hauliers relied on an age-old tradition that when one person left another would be waiting to take their seat. When that didn’t happen, the so called ‘driver shortage’ finally emerged as a real issue.

Since the 1990s a whole generation of people who might have considered driving as a profession were put off. Reasons vary; the perceived lack of career development, poor working conditions and wages, increasing cost of attaining a full C+E licence in stages, the arrival of mandatory periodic training, the need to attain the elusive ‘two years’ experience’ and an intimidating workplace bereft of proper management or supervision.

Stemming the flow

Efforts to fill it, mainly by overseas recruitment and retraining those who fancied a career change, barely stemmed the flow. It took legislation by government in 2009 to reduce the age you could take the HGV test from 21 to 18 to provide the sort of leverage needed to get fresh blood into the industry.

For the majority of people driving trucks, it is, first and foremost, a job. It is a job that carries a lot of unacknowledged responsibility. A lorry driver is the face of the company both to its customers and to the wider public. They operate expensive vehicles and have responsibility for the cargo. It is their job to understand the rules and keep to them. It is their job to drive safely, ensuring the safety of other road users.

As such, that person wants a wage that sets them apart from the unskilled sector. They want satisfactory terms and conditions from their employer and to be treated with fairness, consistency and respect.

Some argue that there isn’t a ‘driver shortage’ because there are many with their HGV licence who choose not to use it but, instead, a shortage of decent employers. In many respects, I agree with this. Too often employers pay little attention and do nothing about the working environment of their lorry drivers only to complain of a ‘driver shortage’ when dissatisfied employees leave.

Shift patterns

Employers need to focus on the issues surrounding the amount of time a driver spends away from their home, family and friends. Some employers have changed the shift patterns, like four-on-four-off, to balance the work-life ratio, or provide private health and dental cover.

Progressive employers even go so far to introduce profit sharing schemes that reward the lorry driver if the company is financially successful.

That the industry is striving to become more professional is welcomed. Putting in schemes like FORS that require best practice procedures to be in place should be mandatory for all operators, whether they run one truck or 100.

More time and resources need to be given to beefing up the Driver CPC. It is right to constantly improve the workforce, it happens in most industries, but in road transport it remains a ‘wish I wasn’t here’ box-ticking exercise.

I also think it’s important to create an image where driving a lorry has greater status and respect within society, like the sort of TV campaign led by government to recruit teachers. Positive reinforcement about the benefits of road transport as a career, to the economy and how it embraces technology is better than the dour ‘without trucks you get nothing’ message that is continually hammered out. The general public is numb to that slogan.

Driving is an adventure, no two days are ever the same, and I am proud to have called myself a lorry driver. With proper leadership by employers, a career as a lorry driver can still be something people can strive for.