Blair’s university drive is real reason behind HGV drivers shortage – Andrew Bridgen
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Entrepreneur turned MP Mr Bridgen argues that if the Government is going to deliver on its “levelling-up” agenda it must highlight the value of “highly-skilled manual vocations”.
The North West Leicestershire MP says that the former Labour leader’s “fixation” on getting half the country’s young people to enter higher education “placed less value on vocations and began the schism between the Labour Party and what were once their traditional supporters”.
Mr Blair set the target in September 1999 and in 2017-18 just over half (50.2 percent) of English young people entered higher education.
Mr Bridgen wants an “honest conversation on the worth of many degree courses,” arguing that “well over half of graduates have found employment in non-graduate jobs”.
He fears young people are on courses which add “little to the economy or the life chances of students” and saddle them with “debt and unfulfillable employment expectations”.
The MP wants the country to prize the roles played by key workers, stating: “If Covid has taught us anything it is how much we rely on key workers and how so many have felt undervalued over many years, one of the major contributing factors to the Brexit result that the metropolitan liberal elite didn’t grasp in 2016 and which they still don’t.”
His comments come as the Road Haulage Association estimates there is a shortage of around 60,000 HGV drivers.
Mr Bridgen argues that employers have attempted to make up for the lack of drivers by recruiting workers from abroad who will put up with poor conditions.
He said: “This is a sticking plaster that has suited employers over the years but has left a festering wound in the industry which has seen many desert it.
“Like many essential industries, employers are going to have to improve working conditions if they wish to attract and retain their staff. Paying the minimum wage with a queue of migrants ready to jump in is not an option anymore and this is not before time.”
He claims that if employers have to pay the market rate for manual workers this will give school leavers better options, boost productivity, and create a “happier” society.
Comment by Andrew Bridgen
for many years I have been raising the issue of the shortage of lorry drivers, citing the lack of dedicated apprenticeship scheme as far back as 2015. In the intervening period, the shortage of drivers has doubled and only now have the Government acted and implemented a lorry driver apprenticeship.
I visited a service station in my constituency this week and inspected the facilities they offer lorry drivers; secure parking, hot showers and the opportunity to do laundry are good, but not all service stations are equal and the one I visited was very much the exception rather than the rule.
I went on to talk with a lorry driver with 40 years of industry experience who illustrated the problems, not least that the average age of a lorry diver is well into their 50s. He told me that the pay is not good, working conditions are poor, and that he felt undervalued that his job which is not seen as a vocation despite the need for qualifications and the fact that they took responsibility for loads worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds.
When I raised this issue in 2015 the estimated shortage of HGV drivers was 50,000, now it is double that and whilst there are 600,000 HGV licence holders in the UK, only half of those are active in the industry and for many, it is the reasons that have been cited above why they have left the job, the drivers have voted with their feet.
If Covid has taught us anything it is how much we rely on key workers and how so many have felt undervalued over many years, this is one of the major contributing factors to the Brexit result that the metropolitan liberal elite didn’t grasp in 2016 and which they still don’t.
For years, many employers have filled the gap in the lorry driver market by recruiting migrant labour from abroad who will work in the UK for higher wages than they can expect in their country of origin and put up with poor conditions. This is a sticking plaster that has suited employers over the years but has left a festering wound in the industry which has seen many desert it.
It is time for a reset, a long-overdue reevaluation about the contribution these essential workers make to our society. Like many essential industries, employers are going to have to improve working conditions if they wish to attract and retain their staff. Paying the minimum wage with a queue of migrants ready to jump in is not an option anymore and this is not before time. Lorry drivers are just the most acute case.
The Government has its part to play here. For many years, well over half of graduates have found employment in non-graduate jobs, an issue exacerbated by New Labour’s fixation that half of young people should go to university. Blair’s target, together with loose migration policies, naturally placed less value on vocations and began the schism between the Labour Party and what were once their traditional supporters.
To deliver on its levelling up agenda, the Government has to highlight the value of skilled manual vocations and start an honest conversation on the worth of many degree courses.
In my early years in Parliament, I advocated attaching data on employability and pay expectations on degree courses which naturally received pushback from those universities who are providing courses which are adding little to the economy or the life chances of students, while saddling them with debt and unfulfillable employment expectations.
The short term solution of migration is no longer an option in the labour market. We need to offer pay and conditions to attract and retain staff, make them feel appreciated which in turn will have a positive effect on our long-running issues of low productivity.
Control of immigration means we will have to pay the market rate for skilled and semi-skilled manual workers. This will provide more attractive employment options to future generations of all our school leavers, address the productivity gap and force Universities to up their game.
I believe our society will be happier for it and it is nothing that any free-market supporting Conservative should worry about.
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