The shortage of HGV drivers is becoming a growing concern for more and more companies who are finding that skilled labour has been lost.

A job as an HGV driver was once seen as a safe and reliable career that people would enter into and enjoy for the long-term. However, the haulage and freight industry is now experiencing a huge driver shortage, the likes of which it has never seen before. The effects of this are wide ranging and could hit the entire nation, so we look at why this is happening and how it can be overcome.

The shortage of HGV drivers is becoming a growing concern for more and more companies who are finding that a lot of skilled labour has been lost. This could result not only in problems for the haulage industry, but also for the UK economy as a whole.

So, to help explain further, Emma Tyrer, Head of Sales and Marketing at Walker Movements, joins the community in asking ‘why is there a shortage of drivers at the moment?’ and how this is impacting the industry and its workers.

HGV driver shortage

It is thought that the shortage could be in the region of 100,000 drivers, particularly in the restricted and standard national licence holders categories, but there could be demand for as many as 300,000 drivers.

Brexit takes much of the blame for this driver shortage. The points-based immigration rules that have been put in place by the government have prevented a number of EU drivers from coming into the UK, whilst others left in anticipation of the EU departure, returning back to their home countries to avoid Brexit regulations as they may not have met the proposed criteria for skill work visas. The advent of COVID-19 lead to even more returning home around lockdowns and family concerns.

The problem is not just that experienced drivers are moving elsewhere, but the fact that far fewer young people are moving into the industry in the first place. With the average driver age standing at 57, it is obvious that while many are now moving towards retirement, they are not being replaced by younger counterparts.

Some feel that the cost of the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence  (CPC) training is too high, and this is proving to be a barrier to entry into the industry. Costs can be as much as £3000, and when this is coupled with high insurance premiums, many young people feel that this is out of reach for them.

COVID has also taken some responsibility for the lack of new drivers, as training opportunities have been limited in light of the lockdowns and social distancing restrictions. The addition of testing to travel abroad and return to the country, and the potential need to quarantine has only delayed things further.

There have long been issues with customs delays and charges, and this has been exaggerated greatly with COVID testing now being added into the mix.

An Apprenticeship Levy was put in place to increase the speed of drivers making their way into the industry, but this doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact. Employers with large pay bills have been asked to contribute to the fund which can then be used to pay for apprenticeship training.

Low wages are cited as one of the main reasons for this, whilst others are put off by the legislation surrounding drivers’ hours. Many drivers are looking at their quality of life, and are not happy about the typically poor roadside facilities that are available to them. With a lack of suitable parking as well as very few acceptable showers and toilets, life on the road has lost its appeal.

The driver shortage impact

A lack of drivers will drive up the rates for many UK operators, which is likely to hit SMEs the hardest. These small and medium enterprises make up as much as 85% of the road transport market and often have margins of just a few percent. This puts them in a position that makes it impossible to train their own drivers and need to recruit and hold on to experienced and professional drivers. When there is a lack of available drivers, some businesses are put in the unfortunate position of having to turn away customers simply because they are not able to fulfil the contract.

This shortage of drivers is likely to have an impact in many different ways, and delays to supply chains is likely to hit the retail sector first. Stores will not only run low on stock, but home deliveries will also suffer without the drivers to deliver the goods that they do have. When supermarkets start to experience serious shortages, it is likely that prices will go up, and the impact will be felt in every pocket in the UK.

There are now calls for priority driving tests as well as incentives to encourage drivers who have left the industry to make their return. It is believed that as many as 30,000 HGV driving tests did not take place last year thanks to the pandemic, and so the industry is still playing catch-up.

The UK is now experiencing an upturn in the economy, which is leading to increased demand on supply chains. When large numbers of businesses were permitted to reopen at the same time, there was a flood of demand which was difficult to meet. It has also been suggested that the number of hours drivers can work to should be extended in order to keep up with the extensive needs of the nation.

Even agencies are struggling for driver numbers, so there are not even temporary solutions available to many. This has thrown a focus on retaining the drivers that companies do have, by offering better working conditions, as losses cannot currently be compensated for. It has even been considered that the army may have been needed to be drafted in at times to ensure vulnerable communities are catered for.

The shortage of HGV drivers in the UK is a serious issue which extends far beyond the haulage and freight industry. This is something which has the potential to impact on every single life, and with training and qualification sometimes being a slow process, plugging the gap in driver numbers will not happen overnight.

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