By Caroline Moody, managing director of Moody Logistics and Storage
A second and more serious long-term recruitment crisis is threatening to cause further disruption within the logistics sector.
As a family-run firm, we have already overcome the challenges around the nationwide shortage of HGV drivers, having set up our own fast-track driver apprenticeship scheme.
Now we face greater difficulties in recruiting qualified vehicle technicians.
Our sister firm Heathline Commercials, which repair and services commercial vehicles, has all but given up advertising for fully qualified people, instead seeking to take on those who are willing to be trained.
As in the case of HGV drivers, the shortage is caused by a significant gap between the numbers of fitters retiring and those who are newly qualified.
A survey carried out by industry group Logistics UK last November involving 207 of its members reported 54 per cent faced a severe problem hiring sufficient vehicle technicians.
This is a situation that can only have worsened over the intervening 12 months.
The shortage is down to several factors. Despite being a well-paid career there is a general declining interest from school leavers in the technical trades.
However, the main problem is that it takes four years to qualify as a vehicle technician from courses that are essentially designed around 16-year-olds entrants.
Since setting up our bespoke driver apprenticeship programme, we have had no problem attracting HGV drivers, and it highlights the extent of the crisis surrounding mechanics that one of our Class 1 drivers, Dean Dodd, has now joined Heathline Commercials as a trainee technician.
He took the decision as he wanted to spend less time on the roads, and we are delighted he made the switch as it enables us to retain his skills within the wider business.
Heathline was specifically looking for a trainee with a Class 1 licence and Dean’s experience is valuable in that respect, given he already has practical knowledge of trucks and how they work.
Unfortunately, current vehicle technician courses adopt a one size fits all approach and don’t distinguish between those joining straight from school or those switching careers later in life.
One solution would be to create more flexible and tailored training programmes for those who already possess higher levels of mechanical knowledge and experience - allowing them to qualify over a much shorter time period.
If the shortage of vehicle technicians is not quickly addressed, the consequences are severe, given that the logistics sector forms the backbone of the nation's economy, ensuring a smooth flow of goods and services.
Any disruption to this intricate transportation web will result in longer downtime, increased maintenance costs, and potentially compromised safety standards.
Rectifying the shortage of qualified vehicle technicians requires a concerted effort by stakeholders and more Government investment in retraining programmes for older workers.
There must also be a re-evaluation of the perception surrounding vocational and technical education supported by targeted awareness campaigns, school outreach programs, and industry partnerships.
If tailored training programmes can be created for people like Dean, they can bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-world application and streamline the qualification process and in doing so encourage more people into the profession.
Vehicle technicians are every bit as important to the logistics industry as drivers, because without them, we can’t keep our vans and trucks on the road and that would create disruption to both supply chains and consumers alike.