2018: a year of challenges and skills shortages.
Our latest installment of the Mercedes-Benz Vans Business Barometer highlighted another moderate dip in confidence from the initial starting point. It indicates a less optimistic outlook and, for many, a potnentially challenging 2018. But why might that be?
In this report we focus on the urgent skills shortages currently faced many organisations. Coupled with a continued belief that vans will only become more crucial to success, the need to address some of the skills gaps facing the industries vans play a pivotal role in is only too apparent.
Fresh themes - outside of skills gaps - include the perceived (and real) threat of automation and robotics, a focus on attitudes towards mental health issues in a male-dominated industry and the growing pinch-points of congestion and urban parking...
Wanted: engineers and technicians.
Worryingly,almost one in five (17%) van drivers, owners and operators are very concerned that a skills shortage could prevent their business operating in the next 12 months.
Nearly a quarter (24%) of delivery drivers and 21% of construction sector workers believe that a skills shortage could have this crippling effect.
But, most strikingly, this figure skyrockets to 43% in Greater London (where we have seen greater anticipated growth levels and higher confidance - putting even more pressure on skills gaps).
Overall, almost 7/10 van owners, drivers and operators say their organisation has at least one urgent skills gap or shortage. And 28% of organisations say that recruitment and retention of talent has become more difficult in the past year alone (just 17% think it has got easier).
However one in five think their own role could be at risk due to an influx of candidates from other struggling or collapes businesses (in the light of Carillion's high profile collapes in January).
The issues with recruitment, retention and reputation.
Our study also looked at how and why recruitment and retention (and the resulting skills gaps) are such a problem. All respondents were asked what workforce issues they think could threaten their organisation's success.
30% said that the inability to attract new talent is a threat, while one in four said an ageing workforce is a threat - and 23% cited a lack of transferrable skills as a potential threat to success.
Tellingly, one in five say that the reputation or image of their industry is a problem that could threaten the success of their organisations, suggesting the need for more work to be done to improve the image and profile of an industry that is pivotal to the wider health of the UK economy.
But it is not only about 'attracting new talent' - 18% say a lack of training and development could harm the success of their organisation.
Meanwhile, the role of Brexit uncertainty also rears its head - 17% say the reduction in staff from EU nations threatens the success of their organisation (23% of fleet managers think this could be a threat). And just one in five respondents think that Government is doing enough to tackle the skills shortage - demonstrating a genuine discontent in a sector where talent supply is critical.
The worry of a 'robot' future.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, with autonomous drive on the horizon and the rise of 'drone delivery' concepts in the media, the spectre of automation and robots replacing human roles is keenly felt within the van driving, owning and operating community.
Put simpy, a large proportion are worried about what it could mean.
For example, 8% think roles within their sector could be lost to automation or robots as soon as in the next 12 months (and 22% think this will be the case in the next five years).
Looking specifically at delivery drivers, almost a third (31%) think roles within their industry will be lost to automation or robots in the next five years.
But this is not simply about 'other people;s roles' - this is having a real impact on individuals. In fact 16% of all respondents are very concerned that their own role could be at risk of becoming 'obsolete', jumping to 25% of delivery drivers and a further one in four respondents under the age of 35.
This community of hard-working people clearly need reassurance. They require a more 'realistic' and relatable outline of what the future could look like, and how and where up-skilling and retraining can create - rather than eradicate - opportunities.
The Mercedes-Benz Vans Business Barometer is a nationwide quarterly survey of businesses large and small, created to help us understand the economic landscape and discover what van owners and drivers need to keep their business moving.
We want to understand the issues that keep our customers awake at night. The challenges and opportunities they face. The kind of support they need - and why. Each quarter, we explore and analyse key business issues that impact our customers directly and monitor how these may or may not change over time.
All of our studies represent an authoritative, independent and unique look at the diverse and hard-working van driving and ownig community that keeps Britain moving.