Q: What is the scale of the current driver shortage?
A: In December 2017, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) estimated that the British fleet industry’s driver shortage was somewhere between 45,000 and 50,000. The RHA noted, however, that the shortage was not confined to Britain and that it was also affecting fleets across Europe. That said, British fleets have themselves been reliant to a large extent on drivers recruited from countries on the continent. This gives us some idea of the difficulties of enticing British recruits to work as drivers, and the challenge of keeping them in the sector once recruited into it.
Q: What are the main factors causing the shortage?
A: Recruiting new drivers into the fleet sector is proving difficult for a number of reasons. Firstly and perhaps most obvious, the work itself can be arduous. It involves travelling long distances (including, for some, trips to the continent) for long periods of time. This also means long spells away from family and friends, which can be draining, and anti-social working hours. This has resulted in a workforce which is predominantly older (13% of truck drivers are over 60 and just 1% under 25, according to one report) and hence likely to be more susceptible to ill health. Some younger drivers, meanwhile, leave the industry because they feel the opportunities for personal learning and development it offers are limited. This results in high levels of driver turnover, with all the associated costs – not just those of recruitment and training, but also in lost productivity. All of this feeds in to the driver shortage.
Q: How can driver training help to reduce levels of turnover?
A: Drivers need to be consistently given opportunities to develop new skills or hone their existing ones. It can be difficult to keep drivers engaged, because the fundamental nature of the work scarcely changes. Nevertheless, fleets should strive to deliver consistent improvements and to give their drivers new challenges and targets to meet. Driver training can play an important role in this regard. By providing drivers with opportunities for training and development, fleets can help keep their driving workforces engaged with the work they’re doing. Training provides drivers with new insights into the work they do, and how they do it. Telematics has come to play a major role in the way driver training programmes are devised. It offers a broad-based and finely-detailed picture of how drivers perform, including data on lane discipline, braking and acceleration, rest stops, routing, and so on. This allows drivers and managers alike to learn more about the way the former drive and in which areas they might improve. Training programmes can then be tailored to individuals’ specific needs. Drivers also need to be trained in the use of new technologies, which are continually being introduced by fleets.
Q: How has the introduction of new technologies changed the way drivers are trained?
A: The arrival of new technologies has dramatically transformed the ways in which drivers are trained. Not only do drivers have to be trained to use new technologies as and when they’re introduced, but the insights certain technologies provide also heavily inform training strategies. Telematics technology provides detailed information on driver behaviour, making it easier to highlight both good and bad conduct. This means that aggressive or risky behaviours – excessive speeding, tailgating, harsh braking, rough cornering and so on – are highlighted to fleet managers by the telematics data. This not only provides a powerful debriefing tool for one-on-one discussions with drivers, but also allows managers to devise training programmes specifically tailored to the needs of individual drivers.
Q: How important is driver training to overall fleet and driver safety?
A: Driver safety should always be one of the paramount considerations for fleets. It is worth noting that where drivers don’t feel that their safety is a key consideration, they will likely start to feel underappreciated – and this will, in all probability, result in higher driver turnover. Encouraging safe and responsible driving should therefore be a crucial aim of driver training. This is crucial to creating a culture of road safety throughout the organisation, and helping to improve fleet safety standards as a whole.