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Blog September 2023

How to combat driver shortages in the waste and recycling industry

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Stacey Piggott

Senior Digital Marketing Manager

Driver shortages are presenting problems in a whole host of industries, prompting delays, disruption, and increased costs across the logistics sector. In Europe and the UK a lack of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers is putting pressure on freight transport with a total EU driver shortage of over 400,000 in 2021 and a deficit of around 60,000 in 2023 in the UK.

Unfortunately, the waste industry is suffering as a result with many waste and recycling firms desperately in need of drivers. According to Local Government Association figures, for example, over a fifth of UK councils are experiencing difficulties recruiting HGV drivers, often causing delays to of refuse collection and difficulties handling recycling.

What’s causing the driver shortage?

Reasons for the shortage are varied, centering primarily on driver conditions, recruitment, and retention. The Covid-19 pandemic aftereffects, combined with the Brexit fallout which is impacting countries globally, exacerbated many of these long term issues thanks to supply chain volatility and increased bureaucracy, however, the underlying issue remains; truck driving is a difficult career option for the following reasons:

An ageing workforce

As more and more drivers reach retirement age and recruitment figures slump, there are not enough drivers to go around. This puts more pressure on remaining truckers to work longer hours.

In the US, the average age of drivers in the trucking profession is 48 years old. More worrying still, in the UK, the Chartered Institute of Logistics revealed an average age of 51 in 2022. That means by 2026, over 30% of today’s truck drivers will be retiring.

Recruitment issues

Hiring more drivers is clearly a priority, however it can be difficult to attract new drivers. Long hours and difficult conditions make the sector unappealing with a further problem that truck driver demographics are predominantly male. Of the 47% of women in the trucking industry, only 7% are actually working as drivers.

In recent years the recruitment crisis has been worsened by COVID, with HGV driving tests suspended during the pandemic. This dip in driver certification, combined with the economic bounce-back from COVID-19, has only served to intensify the problem.

Demanding conditions

Driver retention is a further concern, with companies finding it hard to keep staff thanks to long hours and unpredictable schedules. Many fleets operate on thin margins and push drivers hard in an effort to offset other expenses such as rising fuel prices.

Inevitably, this is racking up the stress for existing drivers, who are often struggling to deliver on time, increase delivery volumes, or to meet more aggressive route schedules. With less staff, more pressure, and eroding conditions, it’s no surprise that the HGV industry is facing a driver shortage.

How do driver shortages impact the waste industry?

Unfortunately, shortages in the trucking industry don’t just affect freight transport; the waste and recycling industry also relies on trained HGV drivers to operate refuse collections and to transport recycling.

At the peak of the post COVID shortages, 18 different local councils across the UK were experiencing disruption to their bin collection service due to a lack of qualified drivers. Many recycling services were suspended to ensure sufficient capacity for general waste collection and some local councils reportedly sent recycling waste to be incinerated due to a lack of lorry drivers.

In the US, the waste and by-product management industry felt similar effects. Many large quantity generators exceeded their 90-day compliance requirements for storing hazardous waste on-site due to a lack of drivers with appropriate permits, and this was compounded by last minute cancellations and an inability to obtain slots at end disposal facilities.

Although the worst of this disruption has now passed, these issues serve to highlight the vulnerability of the waste and recycling industry to HGV driver shortages. Without action to alleviate these stresses, driver shortages are likely to impact the quality and quantity of recycling again in future.

Digital solutions to the driver shortage

As demand for waste and recycling services increases and the supply of qualified drivers dwindles, service providers are looking for innovative ways to overcome this complex issue. Technology offers a potential lifeline with a variety of solutions to increase efficiency, improve the driver experience, and achieve more container collections with less staff. Below are just a few of the ways in which AMCS can help.

Route Optimization

For those looking to maximize the number of collections achieved by an existing team of drivers, route optimization is ideal. It combines dynamic route planning with real-time updates to ensure your drivers find the quickest route between stops.

With solutions for all types of waste including commercial, domestic, roll-off, and hazardous waste, AMCS Route Optimization helps you make the most of every journey by alleviating lengthy detours and unproductive driving. 

Improved visibility into driver progress and traffic conditions helps transport planners make better routing decisions in order to achieve more collections per driver, per day, potentially increasing lifts per route hour by as much as 25%.

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Mobile Technology

With less drivers on shift, it can be stressful out on the road, giving rise to tough schedules and poor working conditions, which increases staff turnover. AMCS Mobile Technology helps simplify life for drivers with in-cab support for day-to-day activities. 

Guided navigation ensures they locate collection and delivery points easily. This increases overall efficiency but is particularly useful for drivers working a new route, or covering an unfamiliar area when other drivers are on holiday or off sick.

In fact, mobile technology can be used to simplify almost all tasks expected of drivers, even those that don’t involve driving. By eliminating manual paper processes and providing digital signature capture, for example, mobile web solutions can eliminate the hassle of paperwork during fast-paced daily collections.

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Telematics

On-board telematics enable you to gather information via GPS and diagnostics systems so you have a clear and constant picture of vehicle location, vehicle health, and driver behavior.

This can help to nurture or reward your drivers according to preset benchmarks, or simply monitor safety. For example, if drivers are speeding, braking too hard, or wasting fuel by leaving the truck idling, telematics can help address the issue. 

This makes AMCS Telematics ideal for on-boarding new drivers, but also for encouraging good behaviors from the whole team. Knowing that their efforts are valued in this way can boost driver retention and even increase driver productivity by up to 12%.

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Route Planning

Efficient route planning helps address the driver shortage by ensuring you retain the drivers you have. This powerful tool helps optimize all kinds of distribution and collection routes to streamline and simplify driver activities.

Utilize AMCS Route Planner tools to create a series of master routes, or run what-if simulations to ensure daily collections run smoothly. That means you can plan around rush-hours in certain zones, or at certain times, meet challenging time windows on orders, or adapt to various vehicle constraints. 

With tools to plan around driver qualifications you can also make best use of available drivers and simplify scheduling with a reduced team.

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Fleet Maintenance

Ensure your trucks are always operational and ready for service with effective Fleet Maintenance tools, enabling you to reduce fleet costs and eliminate equipment downtime by tracking all prescribed preventative maintenance.

Regulatory requirements, inspections and certifications are all managed automatically to ensure your fleet is safe and in compliance, with additional dashboards to help you manage certifications for technicians and drivers.

Not only does this increase productivity, but with a comprehensive solution to manage all resources in real-time, it can also help you organize both equipment and employees to maximize drive time.

Keeping your trucks well maintained is a huge boost to driver morale. No one wants to be driving a truck that’s at risk for a breakdown. Drivers also appreciate the simple and direct link to maintenance via the mobile app to report any issues that they see.

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Conclusion: a call for action

Despite the driver shortages, waste and recycling operators are expected to provide a seamless service, day in, day out. Any interruptions cause major disruption and it’s clear that the industry is critical to both the economy and public health. 

For that reason, it is vital that the waste sector finds new ways to attract and retain staff. Unlike freight transport, waste already has the advantage of offering work close to home and within defined hours. Combine this with innovative technology that improves driving conditions and simplifies working life, and waste providers will be on track to provide a rewarding career that appeals to HGV drivers, both new and old.

Contact the AMCS team to learn more about the transport solutions that can help your waste and / or recycling business combat the driver shortage.

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