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The shortage of HGV drivers – there seems to be no solution in sight

The shortage of heavy-goods-vehicle drivers (HGV) in the UK is not news. Leading industry bodies such as Logistics UK and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) have been reporting the rising shortage for a few years.  According to the RHA, there is a current shortage of 100,000 drivers across the UK.   What is news is that more than 3000 lorry drivers are planning a one-day strike on August 23 to protest long working hours, low pay and poor conditions.  The British Army has been placed on standby to step in to ensure there is not a total breakdown in critical supply chains.


Why is There a Shortage of HGV Drivers?

Before 2019, when the shortage was around 60,000 the issues were mostly about low pay, poor working conditions, an aging workforce and the cost of training. Those challenges are still with us.  Then came the Brexit effect and COVID-19 which both had a compounding effect on the scarcity of HGV drivers. 

The Visa Problem and the Brexit Effect

In 2019 there were around 60,000 HGV drivers from EU member states who were residing and working in the UK. The uncertainty about future rights to live and work in the UK, as well as COVID-19, forced many drivers to go back to their states. Most have not been able to return to the UK to work due to visa restrictions.  This has created competition between hauliers to fill vacancies. 

Low Wages and Poor Working Conditions

Low pay is a major factor, but poor working conditions and being away from home are major complaints. Sleeping in an HGV overnight on long trips, known as “tramping”, is often the reason a driver leaves the industry. The lack of clean, safe, secure and well-priced overnight facilities are deterrents. Such conditions make it unattractive for new entrants to the industry. There are easier day-work and van driving jobs available. 

Aging HGV Driver Population

According to the RHA, the average age of an HGV driver is 55, with less than 1% under the age of 25.  HGV drivers are required by law to do 35 hours of periodic training within a 5-year period to keep their Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC). Many older drivers are reluctant to do this, so they leave. Many haulage operators will not take on drivers under 25, even though they are qualified, as the insurance premiums would be too high.

HGV Recruitment Drives

Despite active recruitment initiatives to attract women into HGV driving, only 1% – 3% of drivers are female. There are some initiatives by major distributors and retailers to encourage warehouse staff to retrain – “warehouse-to-wheels” but progress is slow. Fewer young people are even learning to drive which would be the first step towards a career on the road.  There are not enough attractive reasons to join the industry, as a result, the HGV driver population is shrinking.

Training and Testing 

The full cost of training to become an HGV driver including certifications – around £3,500 – is a deterrent.  IR35 tax reforms, which require agency workers to pay more tax have driven applicants away.  In addition, there has been a drop in producing qualified drivers since 2020, partially due to Covid-19 shutdowns.  Only 15,000 were able to complete the training successfully in2020 – a drop of 25,000 from the previous year.

What This Means for UK Supply Chains

The capacity squeeze due to the shortage of drivers has had a knock-on effect on the business community post-Covid-19 and post-Brexit.  The RHA and Logistics UK have lobbied the UK Government to take immediate action to improve the situation to aid economic recovery.

The Government’s Position

In June, RHA asked for the introduction of a temporary worker visa for HGV drivers and for this occupation to be added to the Home Office Shortage Occupation List to no avail. In its reply, The Department for Transport (DoT) said “we have no plans to introduce a short-term visa for HGV drivers. Employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.”  The DoT offered some short-term measures to attract new UK drivers, simplify training and encourage people to stay in the sector.

Haulage Rates are Rising

Gist, a logistics company that delivers chilled foods and fresh produce for key customers including Marks & Spencer, is offering major incentives to HGV drivers joining in August. Bonuses are worth up to £5,000, through a combination of a £2,000 sign-on bonus, and up to three additional retention payments for continued service.   Leading supermarket chains such as Tesco also introduce £1,000 golden hellos to get new drivers, also offering higher than average wages.  However, it is not yet clear who will pay for this.

If you currently experience challenges due to HGV Drivers shortage, our logistics consultants are experienced in carrying out transport projects for clients across a range of sectors and briefs and therefore have the experience to advise in this matter. 

Please contact us to discuss your requirements in further detail at 01926 430 883 or email .

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