With lockdown gradually easing, it is a good time to take stock and consider how this global event has changed the UK haulage industry. A new report from Kieran Smith at Driver Require looks to the future, setting out a roadmap for the recovery of the haulage industry. Here, we take a look at the key points from the report, focusing on the positive changes that could evolve as our industry adapts to the ‘new normal’.
The report suggests that the categorisation of HGV and delivery drivers as Essential Workers — alongside healthcare staff and teachers — has given rise to an improved public perception of haulage employees. Smith notes that delivery drivers are now hailed as heroes, rather than being seen as lorries that ‘clog up roads’.
This change is apparent across social media, where there has been a trend of customers leaving nice messages or care packages for their delivery drivers. Smith hopes that the increasing awareness of the perseverance of haulage employees throughout the pandemic may encourage permanent change in the public consciousness which could be reflected in policy changes. Indeed, the report suggests that the concept of ‘key worker status’ might be formalised, encouraging the government to ‘protect and nurture these worker categories’.
The report also predicts that the haulage industry as a whole will become more flexible in the future. Over the last few months, haulage companies have shifted between sectors to cope with the drastic swings in supply and demand. The report shows that demand in sectors like Groceries and PPE has been unprecedented, whilst in hospitality demand has understandably waned. Smith observes that this has led to a polarisation of the industry that can only be mitigated by companies adapting to new areas of expertise.
This adaptation was most evident when, back in May, the government relaxed competition law allowing companies to work together to meet inflated demand for healthcare supplies. Smith highlights how these changes have, in general, made the industry more versatile as companies have learnt to diversify their client base and create better relationships with their supply chain in preparation for uncertain periods in the future.
Leading on from this, the report notes that the industry may have to adapt their ‘backhaul’ strategies. Backhaul is the movement of haulage from the driver’s previous destination back to the HGV’s original location, avoiding costly empty return journeys and increasing efficiency. During the coronavirus lockdown, the pressure on certain parts of the haulage industry led to a reduction in backhaul, particularly as much of the backhaul traffic was from sectors that temporarily closed down.
In response to this change, the report suggests that we could see a rise in dual or multiple sourcing networks, as well as the strategic placement of certain goods to avoid a reduction in backhaul traffic. Looking towards a greener future, these strategies also promote the ‘green agenda’ which will still be a huge priority for the haulage industry in the coming years.
Finally, the report focuses on how the virtual lockdown has encouraged further digitisation of our industry. Smith notes that as logistics staff have relocated to a home working environment there has been a spike in the implementation of digitised systems.
Whilst there is already significant investment in the Internet of Things (IoT) as a resource to track tyre pressure and maintenance monitoring, the report suggests that the ‘new normal’ will spark a wave of innovation in the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning which will see us enter a ‘new phase’ of the supply chain industry, especially in regards to robotics at the packing and picking stages. As Smith says in the report, ‘the most powerful model is the man-machine hybrid’.
Evidently, looking forward into the ‘new normal’ always involves some level of conjecture; however, this early report offers us an interesting view on how our industry is evolving as we emerge from the other side of some turbulent months.
At Transmode we are always looking to innovate as we continue to work safely and responsibly in the ‘new normal’. We are also on the lookout for subcontractors who are able to operate COVID-responsibly, so please get in touch if you’d like to join our growing network of drivers.