The Logistics Sector Needs a Public Perception Transplant

In the last twelve months plenty of progress has been made to address the core challenges facing the logistics sector, but a rallying cry for greater political engagement opened the annual Freight Transport Association (FTA) Skills Summit yesterday.

The confereFTA Skills Summit 1nce began by stating its intent to broaden the debate from the summit a year earlier, look at the logistics industry as a whole and extend the spotlight from solely drivers to the entire freight sector.

Analysis from David Wells
A year ago the FTA estimated that the road transport industry was short some 60,000 drivers. The good news is, by FTA Chief Executive David Wells’ analysis, this figure is down to 43,000 after the industry recruited more than 20,000 new drivers in the last year.

The sector has seen a 23% increase in the number of new apprentices recruited, up to 4,930, and a big increase in the numbers getting initial driver qualifications.

Whilst this is positive, Wells pointed to the 55% pass rate as being too low and creating a significant amount of wasted effort and investment. Something to work on.

The graph below, one of many in an informative deck, highlights the employment growth for Large Goods Vehicles (LGV) drivers and for the economy as a whole.

FTA Skills Summit 2

The latest results from the FTA Quarterly Transport Activity Survey were also on display, unsurprisingly showing that by the third quarter of 2015, significantly more respondents were reporting problems in recruiting drivers than at any point since the start of 2009.

FTA Skills Summit 3

Digging a little deeper and Wells went on to highlight how the average age of an LGV driver has increased from 41 in 2008 to 48 this year. Applying common sense this implies that little has changed demographically over the last seven or eight years.

Wells ended his presentation, which opened the summit, in positive spirit: “As I said a year ago, we will crack it,” he said, before handing the baton on to Ray Ashworth of DAF Trucks.

The View from DAF Trucks
Ashworth focused on the many positives of the logistics industry, illustrating that he began his career at Leyland Trucks as an apprentice – with many careers in the logistics still built from the ground up. DAF takes on some 70 – 80 apprentices each year in the UK.

According to Ray, it’s time for a perception change, with working conditions and truck engineering just as clean and high tech as in the car automotive sector. “This is an industry where there is a career and we need to spread the word about how great the industry is,” he said.

The Retail Perspective
Next up Ian Stansfield, former Vice President Asda Logistics Services and Supply Chain, gave his take on the state of skills in logistics. According to Stansfield 85% of drivers are now over the age of 56.

For him there is a significant structural shift occurring driven by changing consumer habits which we are only just seeing the start of.

With more shoppers making purchases online, pressure is being shifted from LGVs towards smaller delivery vans, which he identified as a less regulated or professional environment for drivers to operate in. Though there could be positives to draw on. This increase in demand for van drivers could act as a pipeline to get more young, female and other minority drivers into LGV careers.

“2015 was ok in the LGV sector, but that was temporary. Pressure will return,” says Stansfield. He says that from 2020 the driver shortage will become a real problem again as many drivers reach retirement age and leave.

Independent FTA Public Perceptions Survey 2016
Following the break Ali Sims, Research Director and Julie Rundall, Research Manager, DJS Research presented the findings of a nationally representative survey of 2,000 members of the public, summing up public perception of the road transport sector.

The survey uncovered confusion about the definition of logistics and found that in many cases public opinion is steered by the experience out on the roads, rather than by media coverage or other indirect influences.

Whilst three quarters of the general public acknowledge that logistics is important to everyday life, sentiments such as “long hours”, “not family friendly”, “low pay – poor conditions” and “high cost of specialist licences” were top of public consciousness.

Alongside these findings DJS Research carried out a Net Promotor Score (NPS) evaluation for the logistics industry as a whole. NPS is often used by companies and brands to understand the loyalty of relationships. In the logistics context it can apparently be used to find out how likely individuals working in the sector are to recommend others to join.

NPS can be as low as −100 (everybody is a detractor) or as high as +100 (everybody is a promoter). An NPS that is positive (i.e., higher than zero) is felt to be good, and an NPS of +50 is excellent.

The DJS Research analysis shows the NPS score for the logistics sector to be -49, highlighting that there are significantly more detractors than promotors. This could be a source of the industry’s recruitment problems Sims and Rundall say.

Afternoon Masterclass
In the afternoon, Microlise Sales Director Chris Wallace took to the stage to explain how technology is being implemented to make a difference and improve both the attractiveness of a career in logistics along with engagement and retention too.

FTA Skills Summit 4

Wallace explained that simply putting the technology in place does not guarantee success and emphasised that all levels of a business including drivers, trainers, management and administrators need to embrace it to realise real benefits.

He went on to give a number of examples where it had been introduced effectively, leading to significant improvements in employee engagement. One company realised such significant operational efficiencies and resulting cost savings that they were able to gift a brand new car to their top driver.

The last year has been a good one for the logistics industry. Pressure has been released, though this could be temporary, and there are likely to be a many challenges ahead. Not least of these are the shifting consumer demands driven by ecommerce and the aging driver demographic which will come to a head post 2020.

Whilst the industry has a perception problem, the general public does understand the vital part logistics plays in our modern world.

Increasingly technology is being used to improve conditions for drivers, connecting them to the wider workforce and giving them the tools they need. Innovation will be vital if we are to meet the challenges head on.

There is a lot to be positive about including the seamless way in which goods are transported across the UK and around the world. One of the most pleasing parts of the summit was a section in the morning where the microphone was given up to members of the audience to describe what they are proud of in logistics. An abundant stream of stories and pride swelled from the delegates.

I think we can all agree that it is incumbent upon everyone working in logistics to engage with the wider public in a positive way. Better engagement with people working within logistics can only be positive to breed ambassadors for the industry.