[STUDY] Logistics skills gap still cause for concern
Results from employers in the Logistics Employer Skills Survey showed they suffer from skills gaps across all occupational levels.
At least 21% of companies employing operational staff have personnel who are not fully proficient, but this increases to 31% for middle and junior management positions. Management levels are the least likely to have training arranged or provided for them.
Dr Ross Moloney, CEO of Skills for Logistics said: “The majority of employers are providing some form of training, mainly to comply with legislative requirements.
“However, the fact that they are not only recognising skills gaps but also their contributing factors, suggests that employers would like to undertake more. Employers will need to overcome these challenges if they wish to operate effectively and efficiently and remain competitive in the future. And they are challenges that can be overcome.
Communication, organising, planning and job specific skills were among the skills that employers identified as requiring improvement to ensure staff can do their job more efficiently. Management and leadership skills were recognised by more than half of employers as needing improvement.
The survey also found that a lack of funding or resources to undertake training augments skills gaps within companies, as does the lack of time to train and the inability to find appropriate training solutions.
Other findings from the study - which is downloadable from the SfL website - include the fact that staff recruitment, retention and development were considered to be a top challenge, alongside maintaining business operations.
Three quarters of all companies had recruited at least one person in the past 12 months, either to fill new posts through expansion or to fill gaps created by staff turnover. Most companies (87%) recruited operational level workers, while 42% recruited middle and junior management and 22% recruited director or senior management positions.
Dr Moloney continued: “In addition to providing the kind of sector intelligence found in this report, Skills for Logistics is here to help in ‘Attracting, Developing and Supporting’ employers, employees and those with an interest in the sector – be it through our range of schemes or our knowledge of how to source funding.
“We encourage you to get in touch and engaging with us as a positive step towards filling the skills gap.”
Most recruitment difficulties were seen at operational staff level, which includes the shortage of skilled drivers as well as warehouse operatives. The main reason for these difficulties appears to be the low number of applicants with the required skills. When employers recruit individuals without the full skills set for the job role, the inevitable knock on effect is a skills gap within the workforce.
The study finds positive notes in terms of sector performance, with more than half of employers reporting improvements in profitability, productivity and turnover, in comparison to the previous 12 months.
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