Reader Comments Tell Story of Public Misconception on Driver Shortage

Empty RoadOn the 14th March, the Daily Mail website published an article, with the not-particularly-snappy title of “Britain on the brink of a food crisis caused by a shortage lorry drivers which could lead to empty shelves this summer”. As the title suggests, the article explored the current hot topic of the driver shortage, and the work of the Road Haulage Association in lobbying Chancellor George Osbourne for a £150m fund to aid driver training.

While it could be argued that the Daily Mail might have a tendency towards the dramatic (a formula that has worked well given the Daily Mail’s site is the largest newspaper website in the world), the real story was told out not in the words of the article, but in the comments posted by readers. The article generated over 1,000 individual comments as well as over 7,200 shares on social media (at the time of writing).

The haulage industry is well aware that there is a driver crisis, with a figure of 60,000 the accepted number of drivers that the industry is short of. The issue was widely covered in the run up to Christmas, and the Freight Transport Association (FTA) recently ran a one day summit on the subject, with the 600+ delegate spaces taken up over a month before the event.

The comments posted on the article came from a mix of people, both inside and outside the industry. Of those inside industry, many focused on the impact of CPC training, and the role it has played in many drivers choosing to leave the industry due to the extra regulation and the cost involved. Others talked of the lack of respect drivers are shown and the poor facilities available, especially for women drivers – a group of people that the industry is actively seeking to target (given that accordingly to the Department of Word & Pensions, only 1% of HGV drivers are women).

The role of the EU was another focus for comments, and the increased regulation making the role unattractive and pressured.

Of those commenting not involved in the industry, what was clearly evident was the misconception of both the driver shortage issue specifically, but also about the role that the transport and logistics industry plays in keeping the UK running every day. This may not be surprising to those working in the sector, but the perception of the industry is nevertheless an issue that needs resolving, especially in light of the need to actively recruit to solve the problem!

Some examples of the comments were:

  • “So start moving stuff by rail!”
  • “Shortage of lorry drivers? Have you been on the motorway recently? If we have anymore then we are stuffed.”
  • “Easy. Train women. Instead of all the whining about CEO jobs (that almost every male worker won’t get either) it’s time for more women to join in doing the jobs that this country really needs doing.”
  • “Scaremongering again. Go on any motorway and you are engulfed by lorries.”

It would appear that the UK transport and logistics sector has a big issue to tackle around perception, both in terms of the vital role that the industry plays in the running of the UK economy but in terms of selling the positives of a role of an HGV driver.

This was echoed in the findings of the The All Parliamentary Group for Freight Transport report on the Barriers to Youth Employment in the Freight Transport Sector (published January 2015) which recommended, among other things, that the industry needed to come together and promote the itself to potential recruits, especially to young people of whom there are currently approximately 1 million not in work or training.

What is clear is that there is work to be done – work that the RHA and FTA are carrying out, engaging with government to ensure the right support is given to an industry that is the lifeblood of the UK. But until the perception of the industry to the wider public is improved, the driver shortage is an issue that will be tougher to solve in a long-term, meaningful way.