Road Haulage – the HGV driver shortage rolls on
December 28, 2023
A driver shortage in the trucking industry is nothing new. From the very start, the job has been seen as an unattractive option with its long and anti-social hours, primitive working (and living) conditions and poor job satisfaction.
The current statistics for road haulage drivers
There are just over 400,000 registered HGV vehicles according to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), of which some 350,000 are operational at any one time. According to Driver Require there were 303,885 licensed HGV drivers in Q1 2023. This indicates a driver shortage of up to 45,000 at present.
This is an improvement since the height of the pandemic in Q2 2021, when Driver Require research showed that the number of HGV drivers had fallen to 255,182.
Based on statistics from Driver Require research, the driver pool demographics in Q1 2023 were:
- Under 25 2,936 (1%)
- 25-44 106,575 (35%)
- 45-54 80,471 (26%)
- 55 and over 113,903 (38%)
This compares with the position pre-pandemic:
- Under 25 7,504 (3%)
- 25-44 92,583 (31%)
- 45-54 100,784 (33%)
- 55 and over 100,506 (33%)
The increase in older drivers is striking, as is the fall in the youngest drivers. The significant fall in drivers between 45 and 54 illustrates the loss of experience in the workforce, even allowing for the higher number of those 55 and over.
Factors behind the driver shortage
- Poor public perceptions of the role as an unskilled career choice.
- Underperformance of the Driving Standards Agency, which was unable to conduct approximately 50,000 HGV driving tests during the pandemic.
- A surge in early retirement by experienced drivers since the pandemic.
- Brexit, which reduced the number of EU HGV drivers willing to come to the UK for commercial driving jobs and prompted many EU HGV drivers who were already residing in the UK to return to the continent to live and work.
- The administrative and practical complexities of obtaining an HGV license.
Impacts of the driver shortage
- A shortage of delivery capacity with negative effects right across the economy
- Delayed deliveries
- Less efficient supply chains
- A less experienced driver pool, with road safety and efficiency consequences.
The haulage industry’s response
Professionalising the driver role
One attempt to change the perception of the role as unskilled was the introduction of the Driver CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence) in 2009, meant to attract younger drivers. Unfortunately, this had an unintended negative consequence because many experienced drivers were unwilling to commit to the 35 hours of formal training required to obtain a Driver CPC. This caused disillusionment and persuaded some drivers to leave the industry.
The Boot Camp scheme
The government introduced the Boot Camp scheme post-pandemic. The scheme aimed to provide support for individuals to obtain their HGV and Driver CPC licenses. Three thousand aspiring HGV drivers were fully funded to acquire their HGV license, with the expectation that they would then fill the gaps in the driver shortage within three years. Originally intended as a one year only scheme, it was subsequently extended for a further year into 2023.
Despite some initial challenges with getting the scheme up and running and the collapse of some training firms, the scheme is seen as having been successful in generating a surge of new drivers, but of course not on a scale to make a meaningful impact on the overall shortage.
Apprenticeships have long been a key part of driver recruitment, but there remain concerns about the flexibility of the Apprenticeship Levy arrangements and also the ability and willingness of smaller haulage firms to release their apprentices for their off-the-job training. Here too, however successful apprenticeships may be in producing more rounded and better experienced drivers than bootcamps, the issue is the volume of drivers they produce relative to the overall shortage.
How are hauliers coping?
Many trucking businesses continue to be significantly affected by the lack of drivers and face day-to-day operational challenges. Most are forced by customer demand to resort to hiring temporary drivers through agencies. This can only ever be a short-term solution and not only fails to solve the underlying issue, but also pushes up costs and reduces efficiency.
Ultimately, improved working conditions and better pay must be the answer to reducing the driver shortage. Some progress has been made with these aspects in the past few years, but there is still much further to go. With the ticking time bomb of the industry’s ageing driver pool, this must be a top priority when supporting the industry.
If you are seeking professional advice for your road haulage business, Opus is here to help. You can speak to one of our Partners who can discuss options with you. We have offices nationwide and by contacting us on 020 3326 6454, you will be able to get immediate assistance from our Partner-led team.