A driving change in logistics
For the public at least, the warning signs first started to appear in the summer of 2021 when Nando’s and KFC ran out of key products and were forced to close a number of their restaurants. In the months since, we’ve all seen empty sections on supermarket shelves, long queues forming at petrol stations as fuel deliveries were disrupted, and some of us may even have endured a lengthy, nervous wait for vital Christmas orders to arrive. These are all, in part, symptoms of a well-publicised shortage of HGV drivers in the UK.
Whilst the shortfall, according to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), is estimated at 100,000 drivers, a bigger crisis is looming; not only is the existing workforce ageing fast, but drivers are becoming increasingly disillusioned with wages, career progression and conditions. A recent survey by recruitment agency Pertemps found that nearly a quarter of lorry drivers expect to leave the industry in the next three years, with 68% of those saying it was down to poor working conditions.
As the pool of available drivers continues to dwindle, some of those perceived poor conditions are being forcibly addressed. Companies competing for drivers have increased wages by an average of 20 percent, whilst other incentives, such as signing-on bonuses and paid-for training, are now commonplace. However, such tactics are likely to be unsustainable in the long term and could have wider inflationary implications for both consumers and businesses.
Passive solutions to recruitment
The HGV driver shortage comes at a time when the importance of an efficient logistics network has never been more widely acknowledged. During the Covid19 pandemic, delivery drivers have been classed as ‘key workers’, charged with keeping the country running, ensuring the NHS receives its vital equipment, and retailers and manufacturers get their just-in time supplies. It’s in society’s interests that the HGV driver profession be respected and that their status as essential workers should be reflected in the spaces and facilities we provide for them.
Whilst extensive recruitment marketing, coupled with better pay and a clearer, more accessible career path for drivers may form the long-term plan for businesses, delivering better facilities may actually represent a quicker, more passive solution to recruitment and retention – providing drivers with spaces where they feel safe, fulfilled and happy can engender value and motivation, meaning they’re less likely to leave and, by growing reputation, businesses become aspirational places to work.
The logistics sector has made great strides in recent years to embrace social value and we have been fortunate to work with many funds, developers and operators who, by placing people-first policies at the heart of their business models, have allowed us to design some incredible amenity spaces within their schemes. These decisions are partly taken as a means for logistics developers to be able to win over new tenants by offering facilities that will help them attract and retain staff in very competitive markets.
However, many of those amenities are provided for occupiers and office staff, not always for drivers. There is an opportunity for developers, investors and architects charged with the delivery of industrial and logistics space to start challenging the design parameters to extend that offer to provide well-considered facilities for drivers. Not only would this help to tackle the current negative perceptions of poor working conditions, but would also better serve the requirements of occupiers looking to recruit and retain a skilled driving force.
A gear change in welfare provision
Driver welfare is a key issue for the logistics sector, ensuring the safe operation of the network. In particular, health and wellbeing are incredibly important for both existing drivers and the attractiveness of the profession for potential employees. According to a study being conducted by researchers within the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University, lorry drivers are exposed to a multitude of health risks associated with their job. Long and variable working hours and long periods of sitting provides limited opportunities for a healthy lifestyle. As a consequence, the researchers have found, lorry drivers exhibit higher than average rates of obesity and have a significantly reduced life expectancy in comparison to other occupational groups.
It is therefore vital that we start providing adequate amenities that can contribute to the health and wellbeing of drivers and combat the negative perception and experiences related to existing (or even non-existent) driver facilities. After all, this would be no great stretch for the architecture, design and development communities, who have been deploying health and wellbeing principles across a number of workplace settings for a good number of years. It does, however, require imaginative and flexible thinking and, in so doing, a challenge to the institutional standards that typically govern the design of an industrial and logistics building.
Rather than simply providing a hub with a toilet, a shower and a vending machine for drivers, the parameters could be pushed to include spaces that support the wellbeing of drivers. Instead of vending machines, which often do not provide the healthiest of options, we could consider kitchens with fresh, healthy food provision or canteen access where there is already onsite provision. We should be considering relaxing communal spaces for face-to-face social interaction to combat the mental health implications of long periods of intense concentration and isolation away from friends and family.
We can even look to push our designs further to include an exercise area with weights or walking/cycling machines and floor mats for stretching after long hours spent sitting. On larger sites or industrial parks, a gym could be considered or external areas could be used to provide active spaces for cycling, walking and community engagement. Such ideas are possible and do work – a gym scheme we designed recently for a client on an underused area of their HQ has proved incredibly popular, with over 80 percent of staff signing up to use it!
Small changes, better perception
Over the coming months, we will undoubtedly see more Government policy action to address the driver shortages. However, long-term fixes will lie with businesses; and those businesses providing well-considered spaces and facilities for HGV drivers within warehouse and logistics facilities can play a vital role in changing how the profession is perceived by current and prospective employees.
We fully appreciate that, depending on size and how they’re operated, not all logistics facilities will be able to incorporate extensive driver amenities. However, a little creative thinking and changes to even just a couple of areas can make an immediate difference to the quality of the provision on offer and help change the perception of the profession.
Going forward, providing flexibility for occupiers will be the key to the delivery of spaces that better suit their needs. In speculative schemes, provision of attractive space or amenities for drivers should be incorporated as a selling point to potential occupiers, but depending on the size of unit, we could scale the factor of amenity provided and have a base level for each size.
The bottom line is that fundamental change is required in our thinking if we are to make the delivery driver profession an attractive proposition once more and recruit the hundreds of thousands of essential workers the logistics industry so desperately needs.