9th September 2021

How the haulage industry has been key to the ongoing pandemic recovery

Despite being taken for granted, truckers and the haulage industry have demonstrated how vital they are since the start of the pandemic. While the early days brought stockpiling and concern, this did not last long and it quickly became clear to the public how integral haulage is to sustaining both the supply chain and, by extension, the economy in unprecedented times.

From food, fuel and products to medicines and vaccines, almost every industry’s success relies on deliveries arriving on time. By sustaining supplies, the haulage industry has played a critical role in managing the pandemic and continues to be vital to the ongoing recovery.

Economic importance

When considered as a standalone sector, haulage also plays a big part in the UK’s finances. Pre-pandemic estimates said the road haulage industry contributed £12 billion to the national economy each year. But the interconnectivity that haulage brings between industries is worth so much more. 

Of all the sectors in the UK, the haulage industry possibly gives the best indication of the national economy’s performance. The close connection to the levels of consumer spending means that the demand for haulage and the industry’s performance will typically reflect the wider economic situation.

It is not only about stocking shops and restaurants. Construction and manufacturing could see profits and productivity damaged by an industry-wide shortage of raw materials – with each knock-on effect impacting the economy.

Having endured more than 18 months of pandemic uncertainty and border regulations introduced with Brexit, the haulage industry is now working hard to minimise the impact of the driver shortage. The results will be watched closely, as interest rates, the economy and the recovery will all be influenced by how effective the driver shortage resolution turns out to be. 
The pandemic and business
Lockdowns and furloughs have had a dramatic impact on British businesses. But this has been reduced due to the dedication of haulage workers who made sure that fears of widespread shortages during lockdowns never materialised and that supplies of medicines, and later vaccines, continued throughout.

As non-essential sectors reopen and with the removal of lockdown restrictions in the summer of 2021, the demand from physical stores is growing. Many will be relying on being open for sustained periods to help ensure the future of their business. But this is not simply a return to the levels of pre-pandemic demand. Due to shifts in consumer habits, the volume of deliveries required is continuing to grow. Businesses returning to capacity and new consumer habits have resulted in a high peak of demand.
Changing consumer habits
Even pre-pandemic, consumer habits were shifting. The rapid growth of e-commerce has seen the need for home deliveries increase in recent years. The rise in online food shopping has also normalised the idea that a significant percentage of consumer goods will be delivered to the door rather than purchased in physical shops, dramatically increasing the number of deliveries required.

While the pandemic increased the rate of adoption for this trend, it was already emerging. Not only does the haulage industry have to manage the spike, but the normalisation means that the volume of to-the-door service is unlikely to ever return to pre-pandemic levels.

The weight of expectation

With such a crucial role in sustaining the health and lifestyle of the population, keeping businesses functioning and supporting the economy as it recovers, the haulage industry has to be more effective than ever before. 

Unfortunately, the pandemic has also contributed to issues within the industry. In particular, the driver shortage. Which was made worse as thousands of new drivers were unable to take their tests in 2020. Other countries are also experiencing shortages, but Britain’s hauliers are fighting on two fronts because of the restrictions around changes to international employment. In addition to the lack of training reducing numbers, this change saw 20,000 drivers return to the EU, cutting numbers and limiting the pool of potential recruits.

In the summer of 2021, shortages at major supermarkets became a frequent news story. The supply chain will likely struggle as it waits for the situation to improve in the coming months. While this is a situation that will take time to resolve, it is another clear demonstration of how integral the haulage industry is – and how the solutions they develop will have a significant impact far beyond transport.

New ways of working

There is an opportunity for the industry to revisit established ways of working to overcome the current challenges. Increasing driver pay and improving working conditions will encourage more people to become drivers and improve retention rates. 

Some attempts to resolve the driver shortage have already yielded promising results, as seen in the increased range of people applying for driver roles. Many who have lost their job are responding to increased starting salaries and bonuses offered to encourage recruits – and it is working. The Managing Director of the National Driving Centre says there has been a 20% rise in applicants since before the pandemic

But the job is not done. Without enough drivers, shortages will impact inflation and the cost of products and services. With a shortfall widely estimated to be around 100,000 drivers, the government must provide support in the short term. Despite initial reluctance, the importance of resolving the driver shortage has resulted in the government preparing to change the HGV driver testing process to increase the rate of recruitment.

When looking to the future, improving efficiencies can help advance the industry. One way is to increase digital services to reduce administration when preparing shipments and planning delivery routes. Not only will measures like this help with performance, but they will ensure that drivers get treated fairly, are driving efficient routes and are not required to work additional hours.

The haulage industry requires an innovative change to resolve the challenges it faces today. But if they prove to be successful, it could act as an example for other sectors to follow - encouraging the modernisation of the workforces through improved efficiency, environmental consideration and increased focus on staff wellbeing and support.

Continued importance for recovery

Despite the challenges faced during the pandemic, the haulage sector’s resilience and ability to maintain essential services have been integral to the country’s recovery. 

Although the pandemic is not over, minimising the economic impact and expediting the return to ‘normal’ is a challenge that the haulage industry is integral to. Without the dedication of drivers and industry workers, the past 18 months could have been trickier and economic recovery could have been much harder to achieve.

As crucial as haulage remains to the supply chain, demand is likely to grow, and the switch to environmentally friendly vehicles may present further challenges. By using increased planning and organisation, new levels of speed and efficiency can act as a ballast for the industry future - and with it, the continued recovery process. 

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