When everything works perfectly with supply chains and logistics, they become pretty well invisible to the average member of the public – parcels are delivered on time, shelves are fully restocked, goods are readily available, and at the usual price. In short, everything is where you expect it to be. And for most of us in the UK that is how things have always been.
But today, as supermarkets lack certain goods, prices for construction supplies surge, and everyone from booksellers to Ikea is warning of stock shortages, it is clear that things have badly broken down.
While the debate rages on and the multi-faceted challenges causing the current crisis are not even close to being overcome, there is perhaps a silver lining to be seen in all of this. The underappreciated and far from widely understood world of logistics has burst into the public consciousness in a way not seen for decades. As the operation and concerns of the sector have become everyone’s business, the general public is learning to understand and appreciate it in a way not seen before.
So, what are the benefits?
An image overhaul
This industry has long suffered from a bit of an image problem. Joe public might imagine underpaid HGV drivers slogging away for long hours, away from home for days, making do with ropey roadside facilities or sleeping in their cabs– it doesn’t make for an appealing image.
But now as the driver shortages bite, shops and business, especially big supermarket chains, are responding with huge signing on and retention bonuses and higher wages – and the shift, again made visible in the press, isn’t going unnoticed.
The sector is also appealing to a wider demographic – young people starting out, more women, and older workers retraining. Firms that offer driver apprenticeship schemes are busier than they’ve ever been.
So while the current crisis remains acute, a much-needed overhaul of working conditions, and perhaps more importantly of the perception of truck drivers, bodes well for recruitment to the sector in the longer term.
A government priority
There is nothing like an issue which impacts a lot of people to draw the attention of governments – when voters and the media care about something, you can guarantee that the politicians will too. Driver shortages and other problems in the logistics sector are not new, but while industry leaders have long been trying to raise their voices about them, the ears of government haven’t always been tuned in. As long as everything is just about kept ticking over, the political will for change has been lacking.
But now they are listening! And the decision makers will likely continue to have a heightened appreciation and a deeper understanding of supply chain issues and the concerns and interests of those in the logistics industry long after the current crisis has abated.
Actions and improvements
Necessity is the mother of invention, and as the pressure mounts, it will undoubtedly effect change. Whether that is greater investment in training, wages and conditions for drivers, smarter more efficient warehouse systems, or ever slicker scheduling and planning to pull up any slack.
But more than that, this crisis is bringing about bigger changes, such as the government’s latest move to shake up the HGV driver testing process to fast-track drivers into the haulage industry. They may yet also heed calls from within the sector and add HGV drivers to the Shortage Occupation List, meaning firms could bring back some of the thousands of EU drivers who have left the UK industry.
We at Dawsongroup Finance know this sector well and work with haulage firms often. We understand how tough things are now, with trucks sitting idle and hauliers struggling to meet clients’ delivery schedules – but we have faith for the future because these firms perform a role that everyone now recognises as vital to us all, underpinning as it does virtually every other industry.
So keep on trucking – there are good things down the road!