By SunSkips managing director Mat Stewart
This year, thousands of companies across the UK have suffered some sort of hardship due to unprecedented lorry driver shortages.
And not just companies that rely on HGV vehicles to move their products, like SunSkips, but businesses of all sizes that depend on lorry drivers to deliver much-needed stock.
The government’s quick-fix solution has been to offset the impact of Brexit with 5,000 temporary visas for European workers.
But according to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), there are currently 100,000 open HGV driver positions in the UK, which should give you a clue as to how useful these temp visas are really going to be.
Because in reality, there’s little incentive for Europeans to come back to the UK for work after having only just left, especially considering the current value of the pound against the euro and all the additional Brexit bureaucracy (with even more paperwork on the way for EU imports next year)…
It’s easy to point fingers at the myriad of crises the UK has faced this year, but in my opinion, there’s a much bigger reason companies are struggling to attract lorry drivers – and it’s been going on for quite some time…
It’s probably fair to say it’s been a bit of everything.
COVID-19 and Brexit are the obvious culprits that most pundits are quick to blame, as well as the fuel crisis only making things worse (diesel prices were at £1.15 at the beginning of 2021, now we’re looking at £1.40. That’s a 20% increase!)
But despite the very obvious smoking guns, I would argue that a shakeup in the lorry driving industry is well overdue.
There were already reports of lorry driver shortages before the pandemic, so it seems to me that the crises of the last 18 months have simply exacerbated the situation, rather than directly causing it.
At the end of the day, lorry driving is a hard job. Of course, there are varying degrees of difficulty when it comes to HGV jobs, with long-haul international logistics arguably being the most gruelling.
The way I see it, the only solution is to acknowledge how much work is involved in being a lorry driver and the sacrifices these people make to meet tight deadlines. Then pay them accordingly.
As a new company, SunSkips certainly suffered from the lack of qualified drivers available this year.
Many fledgling businesses face setbacks in their early years, and the combination of the lockdown, fuel scarcity and lack of drivers was certainly a baptism of fire.
But after launching in May 2020 (yep, right at the height of the pandemic), we’ve really found our feet and are growing rapidly.
To survive in a crisis, you simply have to make some changes, and one of the biggest shifts we made to combat the current situation was a substantial increase in our rates of pay.
Because of this, we now have enough drivers, many of which have been with us for a while (and hopefully a long time to come!)
Companies saw lorry drivers as easy targets to exploit with low wages, but 2021 has certainly shone a light on how integral drivers are to the nation’s proper functioning – something we’ll likely see more of as we approach Christmas.
By offering attractive salaries, we’ve been able to recruit some great drivers. In fact, we’ve gone from struggling to recruit to a place where our drivers are now our strongest asset.
The professionalism, skill and friendliness of our drivers is resulting in great customer feedback and online reviews, which in turn is boosting revenue.
By paying people what they’re worth, we haven’t had any lorries parked up doing nothing on the site and we’ve been able to keep providing our services consistently throughout 2021.
It’s not easy for smaller companies to compete with the big supermarkets, who are so desperate for new drivers that they’re offering almost twice as much as they were paying last year.
So as with many businesses in the same boat, we’ve had no choice but to raise some of our skip hire rates to cover the deficit, but we continue to earn long-term customers, which is in no small part due down to the professionalism of our drivers.
To be fair, not everyone is able to offer their employees such a significant boost in pay.
In the world of waste management, local authorities have really struggled and in many cases, had to reduce the number of collections where lorry driver shortages are especially high.
Councils simply aren’t able to quickly approve pay rises and compete on salary in the way that huge supermarket chains can, certainly not at rates of 20-25% more.
Shockingly, there have even been stories of companies waving down council vehicles in an attempt to poach them with offers of higher salaries.
So with people resorting to desperate measures on the streets and the Christmas supply chain seemingly at risk – more has to be done to help get drivers trained up and into work while helping businesses with the skyrocketing expenses involved.
The Home Office has said that employers should be “investing in our domestic workforce”, and with cheaper European labour off the table, it’s really the only way forward for UK businesses.
The non-profit Road to Logistics is looking to help achieve exactly that, making training accessible to new drivers, as well as helping companies recruit.
The organisation was set up in early 2016, which proves that the desperate need to invest in UK drivers is nothing new.
After training is complete, drivers are carefully matched with relevant partners to make sure the right profiles end up at the right companies.
This is huge for businesses, as it essentially subsidises the cost of recruitment, something we’ll be grabbing with both hands for our new site in Haverhill (construction work began this month with a view to open in early 2022).
Road To Logistics also addresses one of the most common things we’ve seen while recruiting drivers. Many drivers who left the industry let their CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence) lapse, which should be renewed every five years and takes 35 hours of training.
So we’re getting applications from drivers with their HGV licence, but without a valid CPC, we’re unable to take them on.
Because of the pandemic, there are all sorts of backlogs with HGV tests and CPC issuing; there are only so many courses and trainers available.
Earlier in the year, there was little motivation for drivers to leave cushy jobs in retail and hospitality for the often gruelling work of a lorry driver for the same pay. But now hourly rates have increased significantly, drivers are starting to return to their core skills to earn what they’ve always deserved.
At SunSkips, we are 100% in support of paying drivers more and are proud to be doing so. But it has to be sustainable, so government schemes like Road to Logistics are very welcome indeed.
The average age of a UK lorry driver is 55, so a lot of drivers are simply retiring, leaving a void that needs to be filled by young people entering the workforce.
In our line of business, drivers who understand customer service and making sure the process goes smoothly is vital for our growth – and that kind of profile isn’t always easy to find.
Attracting younger drivers with competitive salaries – and the now very well publicised fact that they will be working as part of the backbone of the country – is key to keeping lorries on the roads.
Road to Logistics is actively trying to address this by attracting more women, ethnic minorities, ex-offenders and others who have struggled to get their driving career off the ground in the past.
SunSkips wants to be part of breaking down stereotypes and encouraging people from all walks of life to get into the lorry driving business if they want to.
Our own Sophie Marshall is keen to back up that message. For her, driving a lorry wasn’t a sudden career change spurred on by the pandemic, she’s been wanting to be a lorry driver since she was little (she says it makes her feel like the “Queen of the Road”).
Sophie is polite, helpful and always turns up with a smile on her face – a perfect example of the kind of driver we want to hire at SunSkips. She absolutely loves her job and insists that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can’t let anyone tell you you’re not capable.
With drivers like this keen to join the workforce, how could you say they’re not worth every penny they’ve got coming to them?
SunSkips is operating with a full fleet of lorries to deliver skips in the Cambridgeshire and Suffolk area – and a great team of friendly drivers to make it all happen. If you need a skip, just give us a call on 01449 360 033 or 01223 790 712 – or book online in a few clicks.
And if you feel like you’ve got what it takes to become a SunSkips driver, go ahead and send your CV and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re not licensed, visit the Road to Logistics website for a helping hand.