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Peter Lawrence column: A long term solution to the fuel headache

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Many petrol stations in West Norfolk and across the country have been without fuel recently and key workers struggled to support clients and customers. Fortunately, some petrol stations locally were able to maintain stocks and supplies now seem to be getting through, but what caused the crisis and how can more effective Human Capital Management help in the future?

Commentators agree that supply chain issues revolve around shortages of tanker drivers.

Peter Lawrence of Human Capital Department
Peter Lawrence of Human Capital Department

The root causes of this include:

• Difficulty in the employment of foreign workers as many workers have returned to the EU following BREXIT and as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic.

• Drivers tend to be older men – it is an ageing population some have chosen to retire during the pandemic.

• The cost and time of obtaining the driving qualifications [and refresher courses] needed has put exiting workers off staying in the industry and new people off applying.

• Lorry drivers face long periods of working alone, long unsociable hours and the possibility having to stay overnight in the cab makes the occupation unattractive for many people especially women and those with family responsibilities.

• Poor stop off and service facilities including lack of toilet facilities is problematic.

• Pay has not kept pace with rising cost of living and alternative jobs such as multidrop driving now offer better pay and conditions of work.

• Newly qualified drivers find it difficult to find work due to restrictive practices within firms – if you are not already employed with a firm then you can’t get a job and paper qualifications become invalid after a short period.

• There are no career prospects beyond the cab.

Empty petrol stations.
Empty petrol stations.

Many of these issues can be addressed through more effective HR; workforce demographics are a matter of fact – we can predict that an ageing workforce will at some point retire or leave the industry and therefore need to plan for this by actively recruiting younger workers as trainees or apprentices.

Conditions of work can be improved, for example provision of toilet facilities at drop off destinations, maintaining contact with lone workers, check-in routines etc. We need to make the job attractive to different groups of people such as women.

Long hours and overnight stays are unattractive to most people these days so logistical solutions need to be found.

For those that want it, wider job opportunities should be available, beyond the cab, and pay should be at least in-line with the wider jobs market.

Government can also help by clearing the backlog of licence applications, providing work visas for qualified foreign nationals, and reacting quickly once a crisis has been identified including by calling in the Army.

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