With the Christmas season fast approaching, many home delivery companies, couriers, supermarkets and parcel firms will be looking to boost their fleets with additional drivers. Even the recent explosion of “click and collect”, where customers order online but pick up the goods at a local branch of the store, will require a huge logistics push to ensure next day availability is maintained.
Recent figures from Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) show that online sales grew by 14% in October alone and they are expected to continue to soar as we approach the festive season.
‘The increase in online sales is fantastic news for the industry and demonstrates the strength of the e-commerce arena,’ says chief sales and marketing officer Paul Doble, of independent logistics operator DX.
‘However, it also heaps a lot of pressure on online retailers and their logistics partners to adapt to the changing market.’
To meet this massive seasonal demand, delivery companies will almost certainly need additional staff. City Link alone has announced that it will almost double its UK van fleet to meet demand this year. The firm runs 550 vans and drivers throughout the rest of the year, but will gradually take on up to a further 500 vans and drivers for the peak of the festive season.
However, incorporating potentially less experienced drivers into your fleet, at perhaps the most difficult time of the year, with poor weather and shorter daylight hours, can be hazardous. So what should fleet managers do to maintain operating standards?
Ticket to ride
Firstly, they should do just that, as Mark Cartwright, head of LCV and logistics at the Freight Transport Association says: ‘Don’t let standards slip. It is business as usual.’
It is perhaps easier to find truck drivers than van drivers through driver agencies, so many companies will be looking at a variety of recruitment streams for their seasonal staff. In each case though, the same rules apply and fleet managers should not leave it to agencies to have completed their own essential checks.
‘We use local agencies and national suppliers with local offices, as the need for local road network knowledge is essential,’ says Patricia O’Neill, head of transport at City Link.
‘Licences are checked and photocopied upon arrival on the first day and a pre-brief will ask about knowledge of the local area.’
Licences and compliance will no doubt be the first point of call for any fleet manager, ensuring that drivers are qualified to drive the vehicle in question and that they meet your insurance company criteria. However a simple glance at a driver’s plastic card and accompanying paper document are not enough, you really need to check with the DVLA to ensure that everything is as it should be.
The recently launched Association for Driving Licence Verification, rather confusingly known as the ADLV, is now working with DVLA to provide a digital service for fleet customers to check licences in real-time. However as Licence Bureau points out, managers must obtain consent from drivers before making online checks, to avoid breaching privacy laws.
‘You should ask if an agency does visual or has an online checking facility,’ says a spokesperson for Driver Hire Nationwide.
‘Online is a much safer way of checking and can highlight issues that sometimes aren’t picked up on a visual check. When one of our Licence Check customers completed an online check on one of their drivers, they discovered that restrictions on their licence meant that they should have been driving a specially adapted vehicle. If the driver had been pulled over at a roadside check, they would have been prevented from continuing their journey.’
Once you are sure that the driver has the requisite qualification, it is also worth ensuring that they are happy behind the wheel. Have they, for instance, driven a 3.5-tonne van before and are they capable of simple reversing and parking manoeuvres?
‘How long have they held the licence. For instance we wouldn’t be happy putting a relatively inexperienced driver in a long wheelbase van,’ says Driver Hire.
Having satisfied yourself that a driver is both legal and capable of handling your vehicle, you should introduce them to your daily check and vehicle defect regime, running through necessary oils and liquids, tyre checks, lights, mirrors and general condition of the vehicle.
‘At first arrival at the depot the pre-brief explains company requirements for H&S (this is signed for) and trains the driver on the daily vehicle walk round checks and talks through the agency disclaimers for fitness to drive (health & drivers hours),’ says City Link’s Ms O’Neill.
‘Also any scanner training will be given. For contract staff, half a day is spent on all shifts as part of a week-long induction which also covers all the company policies and procedures.
‘We will also de-brief at the end of shift, assessing the success rate of parcel delivery.’
‘It is important that they have a good knowledge of delivery work, with past experience of doing up to 70 drops a day,’ says Driver Hire.
‘Personality is important too. The driver is a brand ambassador representing both the Driver Hire brand and that of our customer. For multi-drop work we would always select someone with good inter-personal skills.’
So, while simply adding more vehicles and drivers to the fleet might sound like a simple solution to the increasing demand of seasonal trading, there are a number of points that fleet managers should take a close look at. Delivery companies will be working hard to boost their productivity in the coming weeks, but one point remains unchanged – safety is not competitive.
Seasonal driver checklist
– Driving licence check with DVLA
– Driver assessment, experience and abilities
– Daily checks, vehicle familiarity including speed limits and lane use if towing, tachographs and driver cards if necessary
– Safe loading, handling and working practices
– Operation of additional equipment, such as tail lifts and temperature-controlled body systems, including hygeine
– Company rules and legislation, no smoking in vehicles, policies regarding mobile phone use, alcohol and drug use, particularly in a party season
– Local road network knowledge and multi-drop experience
– Is the driver a good ambassador for your company