Neil Grundon, Deputy Chairman of Grundon Waste Management, says it’s less about a shortage of drivers and more about improving the working environment.
Take this job advert: Flexible well-paid job, hours to suit family with young children, good holiday pay, bonus system, clean office environment, regular breaks and a chance to keep fit whilst at work.
I think we’d all agree that sounds pretty tempting. Let me tell you about part two of the job description:
Would suit even-tempered and very patient individual who is a mine of information, possesses telepathic abilities to anticipate the often mindless antics of fellow road-users and, by the way, must be able to cross their legs (metaphorically of course) in the extremely likely event of there being no toilet facilities for miles to come.
Mmmmm… that sounds a bit less attractive doesn’t it, but it does sum up the two sides of the job that is dominating the headlines right now.
Our drivers are amazing and I like to think we value and look after them well.
Throwing money at the problem might be nice for those on the receiving end, but making it a race to whoever can afford to pay the highest wages doesn’t help to solve the longer-term problem.
The truth however, is that generally speaking, lorry drivers have had the thin end of the wedge for far too long and now they are in the driving seat (in all senses of the word) everyone is scuttling around trying to find solutions to make sure those shelves don’t stay empty for too long.
And no, throwing money at the problem might be nice for those on the receiving end, but making it a race to whoever can afford to pay the highest wages doesn’t help to solve the longer-term problem.
There is no point in companies scrabbling over existing drivers unless they are willing to train new ones and all the promises of ‘onboarding’ bonuses for new employees won’t make conditions any better.
I know everything from Brexit to driving test red tape is being held responsible, but I think there’s a difference between a genuine shortage of drivers and a contingent of qualified HGV drivers who no longer want to drive.
Why is that?
The current highway code resembles ‘war and peace’, meanwhile you can jump on an electric scooter and hurl yourself headlong into oncoming traffic like an extra in a Tom Cruise movie without a piece of paper to your name.
Finding somewhere to park a 26-tonne refuse vehicle when you need to use the toilet is no easy matter, and the lack of facilities for all HGV drivers on the road is an absolute disgrace.
That’s to say nothing of the heavy loads our drivers are sometimes confronted with. It’s quite simple, if it takes two employees to move an overladen refuse bin, then please don’t expect one of our drivers to be able to manage it on their own. And don’t get me started on gravel drives and 1100 four-wheeled bins…
When it comes to tendering for contracts, councils want to have their cake and eat it. Instead of embracing indexes that include obvious escalation clauses such as fuel or driver’s rates, they prefer to set their store by the Retail Price Index or Consumer Price Index, which are pretty much irrelevant during a global pandemic unless one was to include flour, yeast and Netflix subscriptions.
Flexibility, such as if forward-thinking companies like ourselves want to introduce hydrogen-powered or electric vehicles, doesn’t seem to come into the equation.
Too little too late
I see that the Government’s answer to the driver shortage is to bring in a series of measures to release up to 50,000 more HGV driving tests each year by shortening the application process and the tests.
It’s too little, too late and, given the above challenges, I wonder who wants to drive anyway?
Certainly not the younger generation. They’ve embraced public transport as requested by the green brigade, yet they still expect online deliveries straight to their door the next morning – what does that say about their commitment to reducing the carbon footprint?
And oh yes, that’s right, the test centres are booked up with people wanting to get a licence to drive Jemima’s pony to the next gymkhana before she discovers nightclubs and the horse and horsebox gets sold.
Not much incentive there to train the drivers of the future.