Health Execs: regulations are a barrier to growth
Four in five healthcare execs are planning to tap into global markets and invest in new technologies, over the next three to five years, according to UPS’ annual Pain in the (Supply) Chain healthcare survey.
Conducted by TNS, the survey reflects the views of senior-level decision makers within the healthcare supply chain. Representing the pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and supply companies in the US, Western Europe, Asia and Latin America, those within the industry hope to increase their competitiveness, maintain product integrity and gain efficiencies through investments over the next few years.
Barriers to Growth
However, there are a number of factors which, according to the experts, are acting as barriers to growth in the healthcare industry.
Globally, the top healthcare business concerns include increasing regulations - the top concern cited by 52 percent of executives - as well as healthcare reform and other changes in legislation, cited as a concern by 51 percent. Intellectual property protection ranks third on the list of top concerns, cited by 48 percent of respondents. Concerns around intellectual property protection are highest in the U.S. and Asia.
"Healthcare companies are feeling the pressure to expand and drive new growth while containing costs and ensuring compliance around the globe," said Bill Hook, vice president, global strategy, UPS Healthcare Logistics. "That has only heightened the need to build more global flexibility, integration and transformation into the healthcare supply chain."
The biggest supply chain concern is regulatory compliance, which was cited by 65 percent of respondents. Cost management comes in second with 60 percent citing this as their top supply chain issue, and only 41 percent report success in managing their supply chain costs.
In addition to regulatory compliance and managing supply chain costs, product security and product integrity have risen to the third most cited supply chain issue, rising to 57 percent. In emerging markets, it is a more significant concern as it is ranked first or second by survey respondents.
"Concerns around regulatory compliance and cost management have been constants for healthcare supply chain decision-makers over the past five years while we've seen growth in concern around areas such as product security and product protection," said Scott Szwast, UPS Healthcare Segment Marketing Director. "While these areas will always be a focus in the healthcare industry, companies can experience positive impact by examining strategies such as increased collaboration, adopting segment based supply chains and leveraging new innovative models and technologies."
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector