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The fleet sector is faced with a plethora of challenges at the moment. Most importantly, there’s Brexit and its potential implications – not just in terms of economic growth and consumer demand, but its possible repercussions for cross-border trade inside the EU’s single market. But we should be careful not to focus too much attention on Brexit, because it isn’t the only hurdle fleets need to overcome. Another such hurdle is the ongoing shortage of drivers, and the difficulties both of retaining them and recruiting newcomers into the sector.

Of course, if you were to ask drivers themselves they’d probably just ask for more money. Though pay and conditions are certainly a key issue, the task of tackling the fleet industry’s driver shortage effectively is a lot more complex than that alone. Research suggests that the scale of the problem is substantial. According to a 2016 study from the Freight Transport Association (FTA), the shortfall in the UK fleet sector stood at over 34,000 last year. But with only 530 unemployed drivers in August 2016, the FTA warned that there was “no pool of qualified drivers on which employers can draw”.

So what can the fleet industry do to address the driver shortage? It seems the question fleets need to ask themselves first is how they can hang on to the good, reliable and experienced drivers they already have. Here, we will look at some of the most important steps they can take to achieve just that.

Communication is crucial

One area that mustn’t be neglected in this regard is that of industrial relations. A harmonious relationship between employer and employee is particularly important in situations where the former could face a potential labour shortage. But inadequate communication, in particular, can breed antipathy and make drivers feel that their concerns are of no interest to their bosses. Managers should therefore seek to ensure that there is effective and continuing communication between drivers and management.

There are a number of mechanisms through which internal communication might be improved. Regular face-to-face meetings between drivers and management (whether individually or as a group) can provide drivers with a good opportunity to raise any concerns. Alternatively, some drivers might feel more comfortable bringing up whatever issues they feel are important via anonymous online surveys.

Diversity in recruitment

Rightly or wrongly, the view that the fleet industry (its driver workforce in particular) is largely a white, male preserve still persists in the public mind. As Ruth Waring of Women in Logistics wrote in a recent Teletrac Navman blog post, the fleet sector’s driver workforce now has an average age of 53, leaving the industry cradling a “demographic time bomb”: “The biggest issue with the age profile is having a workforce that is from one small demographic. This means the industry has developed a major skills shortage, which has, in turn, become an issue for society, as we all rely on the logistics sector to keep the country moving.”

Because so many people consider this line of work to be only for older men, fleets are left with a narrower pool of potential recruits to hire from. Of course, the nature of the work itself – which can involve a lot of time spent away from home – means that it isn’t for everyone. But there’s no reason that the recruitment pool has to be quite so narrow as it currently is. The fleet industry needs to take assertive and decisive steps to tackle misconceptions about the sector, and also to make it a more welcoming and attractive place for young people, women and minorities, thereby promoting greater diversity in their recruitment.

The government could also step in to help here. It could look to subsidise or reduce the cost of obtaining a Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) for certain demographics, such as women and young people, in order to assist with the diversification of the driver workforce.

Investing in a long-term future

Another concern which may be deterring potential new recruits from entering the fleet industry as drivers is the lingering fear that doing so may not offer them much in the way of long-term job security. It probably goes without saying that there’s been a massive amount of media discussion (it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it hype) about automation and the possible threat it might pose to jobs. Part-automated ‘platooning’ trucks will be tested on UK roads next year. But with a driver shortage running into the tens of thousands, there is clearly considerable demand for the services of drivers in the fleet sector. It’s up to the industry to demonstrate to would-be driver recruits that it values their services and will continue to do so for years to come.

Furthermore, the fleet industry needs to offer its drivers opportunities for ongoing skills development. Of course, this has to be handled with some care – some drivers are likely to take exception to the prospect of being told how to a job they’re already more than familiar with. But appropriate training can be useful and satisfying for drivers too. Where drivers feel like they’re going nowhere (metaphorically speaking), disillusionment can set in and this can lead some drivers to leave the sector altogether. Likewise, league tables ranking drivers with rewards for the best-performing can, provided it’s done in the right spirit, provide the driver workforce with an effective and positive incentive to stick around.

Fleets should also think carefully about how they deploy technology. Of course, technologies such as telematics can help to deliver significant efficiency and productivity boosts. But they need to be introduced carefully, and it’s important for the sake of good employer-employee relations to win drivers’ consent when bringing in these new technologies. It should be explained to drivers how these technologies can make their life easier, reducing the burden on them. It is therefore important that adequate training in making use of these technologies is provided.

Think about driver wellbeing

We’ve already touched on the challenges of driving for a living – particularly the fact that it can often involve spending lengthy amounts of time away from family, friends and home. This can take a toll. In addition, the work itself can be monotonous and dull, as well as stressful. It’s essential that employers in the fleet industry are conscious of this, keep it in the forefront of their considerations and take effective actions to deal with it. Fleets must be prepared to give drivers the opportunity to come to them and discuss any concerns about their wellbeing – physical or mental – that they may have. A culture of openness has to be created.

It should also be noted that there’s much the government can do to help the fleet industry in its efforts to enhance driver wellbeing. For example, it could increase the number of laybys and rest areas available to drivers, as well as improving the facilities – such as toilet facilities – available to them in these locations. Similarly, mandating better facilities at motorway service stations could do much to help make the general experience of working less stressful for drivers.

Rebecca Hall is a Senior Marketing Executive at Teletrac Navman.

Working in the telematics industry for 5 years, Becky is responsible for co-ordinating and launching multi-channel campaigns at Teletrac Navman UK. Particular areas of interest include, road safety, fuel savings and viewpoints from commercial drivers.