Freight Industry Times has launched FIT FOR THE FUTURE - a new campaign to help attract more young people to the sector.

We all know the freight sector plays a vital role in delivering goods to supermarkets, building sites, schools, hospitals and retailers across the country, but the general public has little understanding of its economic significance, how it provides efficient handling of and transport for goods, and the wealth of careers available, from freight forwarding to supply chain operations.

It is estimated that more than half a million workers will be required to support our growing sector over the next few years but unfortunately the freight sector is not widely regarded as an attractive career option among young people and is now facing an acute skills crisis.

Research suggests nine out 10 of pupils have never considered a career in the sector but 80% of pupils would reconsider after receiving briefings on how the sector operates, the career options, and the opportunities for progression.

This message of opportunity needs to be presented to younger children in schools as well as college-leavers and university graduates. Now, more than ever, with Brexit and the ramifications of leaving the EU, it’s going to be vital that the freight sector has the widest pool of talent to recruit from.

To do this, the industry also needs to embrace diversity and be more representative of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, and particularly women, if it’s to stay competitive and attract skilled people in the future.

The freight sector already has its own unique set of issues to tackle. Apart from an ageing workforce, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recruit young people to undertake key roles within the industry, mainly because of its poor image and perception.

For example, the serious shortage of drivers in the road haulage sector, most of whom are now aged over 45, white and male. Measures to address the driver shortage, from both Government and industry, are not sufficiently targeted or wide-reaching enough to deliver drivers fast enough to address the shortage, cope with the ageing workforce or deal with future growth. Investment in recruitment needs to be backed up by investment in retention; unless conditions for drivers improve, the sector could lose people faster than it recruits them.

Meanwhile, employment in other sectors of freight movement, such as train drivers, shipping captains and pilots, has on average a 30 per cent shortfall, which is set to worsen as the economy improves.

The aim of the FIT FOR THE FUTURE campaign therefore is identify the challenges, encourage and inform debate, showcase best practice, and hopefully influence policy makers.

We have highlighted five key challenges the freight industry needs to address as a matter of urgency:

  • Engaging with and attracting young people into the industry
  • Improving the industry’s image and perception
  • Investing in recruitment and retention
  • Increasing skills and training provision
  • Embracing gender and cultural diversity


Over the coming months Freight Industry Times will be looking at these five challenges in depth, across all sectors, examining the latest government and industry-led initiatives, including interviews and opinion from the industry’s most influential thought leaders, as well as featuring the innovative companies at the ‘coalface’ who are already rising to the challenge.

If you have a story about how your organisation is rising to the FIT FOR THE FUTURE challenge, contact the Editor, Anthony Woodburn on 01625 667567. Email:   


The key issues by sector:


The road haulage sector faces immediate challenges including: driver shortages, it is estimated that there are 45,000 vacancies across the UK haulage fleet, while the average age of a HGV driver is approaching 50. There is a distinct need for more diversity in recruitment policies, including attracting more women, school and college leavers, and individuals from ethnic communities into key jobs at all levels.

For many the arrival of the Apprentice Levy has been seen as an unwanted burden but it can be viewed as an opportunity to address future staffing requirements. Training such as Driver CPC courses or other niche courses i.e. first aid/accident procedure training and knowledge of transporting and handling dangerous goods should be viewed as beneficial rather than just a requirement.

The road haulage sector has also been working hard to change attitudes towards the way it is perceived. For many it is seen as an unattractive profession for long-term careers. This negative view must be challenged.


Rail freight operating companies are faced with different challenges compared to road freight operators – these include lack of track access slots for freight trains (partly due to the increasing demand for passenger services), the availability of new scheduling technology, and staff with the skills to operate such technology.

New training establishments such as those to serve the HS2 initiatives are revitalising the rail sector, while new techniques such as the track-laying machinery employed by Balfour Beatty at London Gateway which need highly skilled staff are saving vast amounts of time and money.

The challenges in terms of recruitment concern the need to introduce a younger generation of employees with the necessary skills to move the sector forward and meet increasing technological solutions. As rail freight is increasingly becoming part of a multimodal framework – in terms of its links to ports and major road distribution centres – the skills requirements are diverse in nature.


The UK maritime sector faces a number of immediate challenges including economy of scale, global competition, diversity of cargoes; the delivery of intermodal facilities; continued investment; new legislation; and the provision of skills and training fit for the 21st century. UK ports are also addressing the need to attract new talent into the sector.

UK ports are investing in new technology and expanding to accommodate larger vessels and more distinct cargoes. UK container ports are also looking to maximise vessel throughput times and the number of TEUs handled in a set time period. Bringing about greater efficiency also involves major investment in equipment and personnel recruitment and training.

Leading ferry companies have been introducing new vessels to facilitate quicker turnaround times and safer operations. As the ferry market is ever competitive, another challenge is to provide freight drivers with facilities that meet the needs, so dedicated driver rest areas and food outlets can prove to be as important as routes and rest periods.


While air cargo amounts to less than two per cent in tonnage levels it equates to more than 40 per cent in value of goods. After a period where are air cargo markets remained flat there are now signs that demand is improving. A major dilemma for the UK market is the lack of overall airport capacity, particularly in the south-east.

The airports marketplace continues to recruit highly-trained staff to tackle issues relating to increased demand, quicker turnaround times (both passenger and freight), security demands (including all-cargo screening), hazardous goods legislation, cargo tracking and paperless documentation. Of course safety remains a critical priority.

The International Air Transport Association has also called on the air cargo industry to accelerate modernisation and focus on delivering high quality service, and has further identified key areas where the industry needs the support of governments to implement global standards. All of which offer opportunities to train and develop existing and new talent.