Who will be delivering your Christmas presents this year?
The logistics sector is almost as busy as Santa and his reindeer at this time of year – and a pressing skills shortage means that the face of the industry is changing.
The logistics sector has always been a seasonal industry. But a shift in consumer behaviour and a boom in online shopping means that the Christmas period is particularly fraught for freight and courier companies.
As a result, there is soaring demand for logistics and courier services at this time of year. Workers are stretched to work additional hours and the whole industry is under pressure to deliver a flawless Christmas delivery experience for its customers.
While the logistics industry is good at responding to challenges and flexing to meet demand, the situation this year is made more difficult as a result of the growing skills shortage in the sector.
A pressing skills shortage
The workforce in the logistics and freight sector is changing. In recent years, we’ve seen a high influx of overseas workers joining our ranks. The sector now relies heavily on EU workers – they make up 10% of the entire workforce.
However, the Brexit referendum has taken its toll. Prolonged uncertainty and a “hostile environment” has seen EU nationals leaving the UK. As a result, EU migration dropped to the lowest level recorded since 2009.
For an industry already grappling with a skills shortage, this is bad news. The Freight Transport Association (FTA) estimates that there are currently more than 53,000 lorry driver vacancies in the UK, plus more vacancies in warehousing, van driving and other key roles across the sector.
The FTA has sounded the warning that the loss of the 343,000 EU nationals working in British logistics firms could see vehicle movements – and the supply chain as a whole – come to a standstill.
Sally Gilson, the FTA’s head of skills campaigns, urged the Government to consider the needs of the logistics industry when creating its post-Brexit immigration policy.
“The Government must prioritise the recruitment and retention of HGV drivers alongside other logistics staff to future-proof Christmas for years to come,” she said.
Opportunities for women drivers
One positive aspect stemming from the skills problem is a move towards pulling in new entrants to profession from a wider and more diverse pool of talent.
Specialist logistics insurance company, The Van Insurer, has reported that requests from female delivery drivers increased by 104 percent over 2019. The highest increase has been in the capital, but areas outside London have seen a steady increase in insurance enquiries from female drivers too.
This compares against the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) findings for the industry as a whole that heavy goods vehicle (HGV) and van registrations fell in 2018 for the second year in a row. The SMMT has highlighted that operator confidence remains low due to ongoing political and economic uncertainty and that this is having an impact on new registrations.
Ed Bevis, Marketing Manager at the Van Insurer, commented: “We knew that employment patterns were changing but the rise in female van drivers taking to the roads is quite staggering… it’s interesting to note women entering a workplace that’s been predominantly considered male and we’re looking forward to seeing how the landscape unfolds over the next three years.”
2020 will be a year of challenges
The old maxim that “the only constant is change” is set to be the precept of 2020. There is no doubt that we will all be facing new disruption and new challenges.
How we respond to them will determine our success. It will be up to us all to approach this disruption with a positive intention to transform each challenge into an opportunity.
We’ve already seen the sector expanding to include a wider pool of diverse talent. In the same way, rising fuel costs can be viewed as an incentive to switch to greener vehicles.
On a positive note, it is almost certain that, by end of the year, we will have a much clearer idea of where the industry and, indeed, the country is headed.
We can only hope that, at that point, investment will pick up and we will have put positive measures in place to address the skills shortage. In this way, we can ensure that 2020’s Christmas deliveries will be just as successful as this year’s.