Fri, November 03, 2023
The HGV Driver Shortage Dilemma: Causes, Impacts, and Solutions 2023
Since the inception of trucking in the UK, there has perpetually been a shortage of truck drivers. Several factors contribute to this shortage. The occupation is often viewed as a last-resort job. The hours can be excessively long and unsocial. Despite claims on HGV broker websites promising £60K per annum, the actual remuneration can be quite disappointing.
Understanding the HGV Driver Shortage
Let's explore the reasons behind the HGV driver shortage on UK roads today. In the UK, there are around 350,000 trucks in operation, and since AI has not yet mastered driverless HGVs, there's an ongoing demand for human truck drivers to operate these colossal vehicles. The proliferation of e-commerce and home delivery services has led to a surge in the number of trucks on the road, consequently increasing the demand for drivers. The shortage of HGV drivers has been a long-standing issue, and at times, it has reached a critical level.
Factors Contributing to the Shortage
As an example, let's examine the post-COVID era to illustrate the chronic HGV driver shortage. During the COVID pandemic, the DVSA was unable to conduct approximately 50,000 HGV driving tests, exacerbating the shortage. Many HGV drivers also decided to retire early during this time, further depleting the pool of experienced drivers.
In addition, the UK's decision to leave the EU resulted in a decline in the number of EU HGV drivers willing to come to the UK for commercial driving jobs. Many EU HGV drivers who were already residing in the UK opted to return to the continent to live and work, exacerbating the shortage of experienced drivers on UK roads.
Impacts of the Shortage
At one point, the HGV driver shortage was estimated to be around 100,000 drivers. When the UK emerged from lockdown, there were widespread issues, including empty supermarket shelves, fuel shortages, and extensive media coverage of the driver shortage. During this time, there were approximately 100,000 HGV driver vacancies with no available drivers to fill them.
Fast forward two years from the height of the COVID pandemic, and while the HGV driver shortage persists, it is no longer considered as critical. Current estimates suggest that the shortage has been reduced to approximately 35,000 to 40,000 drivers.
Industry Response and Solutions
The demand for HGV drivers still exists, and finding a job as a truck driver can be relatively straightforward. However, the process of gaining an HGV license has evolved significantly over the years. Initially, acquiring an HGV license was as simple as having a car license and obtaining a permit from the post office. But in recent times, this process has changed considerably.
One of the persistent reasons behind the HGV driver shortage is that, for many young people, it's considered a job of last resort. Few individuals turning 18 aspire to become professional truck drivers. This perception is partly due to the government classifying HGV drivers as unskilled, making the profession less appealing to potential drivers without family connections in the industry.
The introduction of the Driver CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence) in 2009 aimed to professionalize the haulage industry and make it more attractive to young people. However, it had an unintended negative impact on experienced HGV drivers. Many experienced drivers were reluctant to complete 35 hours of formal training required by the Driver CPC, causing disillusionment with the industry, and leading some to leave.
Ironically, the Driver CPC was introduced to attract more people to the profession, but it had the opposite effect by driving many experienced drivers away, exacerbating the driver shortage problem.
The driver shortage poses a significant challenge as it affects the timely delivery of goods, including items ordered through platforms like Amazon or eBay. The haulage industry is vital to the UK economy, and without HGV drivers, the entire system would come to a standstill.
Government's Boot Camp Scheme
In an attempt to address the HGV driver shortage, the government introduced the Boot Camp scheme post-COVID. The scheme aimed to provide support for individuals to obtain their HGV and Driver CPC licenses. Under the Boot Camp scheme, 3,000 aspiring HGV drivers were funded to acquire their HGV license for free, with the expectation that they would then fill the gaps in the driver shortage within three years.
Impact of Brexit and Continued Challenges
While Boot Camp proved successful for some, it also encountered significant challenges. The initial three-month process stretched to over a year due to delays and setbacks in the system. Some of the companies awarded contracts to deliver Boot Camp, like System Group, went into administration, leaving training companies owed thousands of pounds and trainees without an HGV license.
The decision for the UK to leave the European Union was another major factor contributing to the severity of the driver shortage. As a result, it became more challenging for non-UK citizens to work and reside in the UK as HGV drivers. Many UK-residing EU HGV drivers chose to work on the continent due to better financial opportunities and the Brexit vote's implications.
Furthermore, EU drivers were less inclined to come and work in the UK due to constraints on freedom of work and residence. As of November 2023, there is still a driver shortage, although it's not as critical as it was immediately after COVID. This indicates that there is a continued demand for HGV drivers, and remuneration has improved over the years due to high demand.
The current driver shortage, while not as severe as during the peak of the pandemic, may present challenges for newly qualified HGV drivers seeking employment. Many employers prefer candidates with a minimum of two years of driving experience. It's essential for new entrants to remain persistent and proactive in their job search.
It's important to be cautious of websites and individuals promising instant job placement with high earnings, as these claims are often unrealistic. Class 2 drivers can expect salaries in the range of £35,000 to £42,000, while class 1 drivers typically earn between £36,000 and £47,000.
FAQs About the HGV Driver Shortage
Is the HGV driver shortage still a concern in the UK in 2023?
The HGV driver shortage has been a persistent issue since the inception of the trucking industry, and it remains a concern in 2023. The shortage is anticipated to reach its peak during the Christmas season.
What are the main reasons behind the HGV driver shortage?
The primary factors contributing to the driver shortage include long and irregular working hours, challenging working conditions (e.g., services), and job satisfaction concerns.
How are businesses coping with the shortage of HGV drivers?
Numerous transport businesses are significantly impacted by the driver shortage, making it exceptionally challenging to operate without an adequate number of drivers. To address the immediate need, many companies resort to hiring temporary drivers through agencies. However, this is merely a short-term solution and doesn't resolve the underlying issue. Employing agency drivers is less than ideal because it is costlier, and these individuals may not be familiar with the specific operations of your business.
HGV driving remains in demand, offering job security. However, the shortage of HGV drivers persists due to misconceptions about the job. While pay is above average, resolving the shortage is a complex, long-term challenge. To address it, we need better working conditions, recognition of HGV driving as a skilled occupation, and appreciation for the vital role of drivers.
Concerningly, less than 2% of HGV drivers are under 25, and the average age is 55. This demographic gap could lead to a worsening shortage, particularly during peak times like Christmas.
This post sheds light on the ongoing HGV driver shortage in the UK and its contributing factors.