Why it’s critical for the UK economy to address the driver shortage?
A significant portion of the country’s wealth and employment is derived from exporting and importing goods and services, so it’s no surprise that the UK has over 70 trade agreements in place with other countries.1 And yet, the one industry that makes it all possible and quite literally puts the food on our shelves, seems to be doing it with a dwindling workforce – which makes it a major concern not just for road hauliers but for the general public too.
For various reasons, many operators are struggling to find qualified drivers to keep up with the demands of their businesses, resulting in delays, increased costs, and disruptions across the supply chain. All of this makes it difficult for hauliers to grow, stay competitive, and take on new contracts – when in fact this critical industry should be healthy and thriving, for everyone’s sake.
Why is there a shortage of drivers?
There are several factors that have contributed to the driver shortage in the UK, including:
- An ageing workforce: Many truck drivers are older and approaching retirement. According to the Chartered Institute of Logistics, the average age of drivers has increased to 51 in 2022, up from 47 since 2015.2
- Not enough younger workers entering the industry. Truck driving can be demanding, with long, lonely periods away from home, dire roadside facilities, and other challenges that can make it less appealing to job seekers. Many young people avoid truck driving because of the industry’s image, a lack of career guidance towards the transport sector in schools, and a lack of incentives and awareness programmes to attract them.
- Regulations: The UK has implemented stricter regulations on drivers, such as the need for additional training and certification, which can make it more difficult for people to enter the profession.
- Brexit: Many EU drivers left the UK due to uncertainty about their status and future in the country.
Reasons to consider HGV driving as a career
Regardless of the challenges, there are many career and training opportunities available for anyone interested in becoming an HGV driver.
One of the biggest advantages is the potential for high earnings. HGV drivers can earn good salaries, and many companies offer benefits such as pension plans and healthcare. Plus, getting to travel and see different parts of the country can be a rewarding experience.
Trucking may not be seen as a particularly attractive career choice by some, and the challenges need urgent attention. Yet, there are passionate younger drivers, like influencer Trucker Tim who, with over a million followers on social media platforms, is creating huge interest in trucking as a career among younger audiences.3 About the overwhelmingly positive reactions to his videos, he says, “I get loads of messages from people saying how much I’ve inspired them, which is the best thing. Like younger people saying they’ve never really been into trucks until they found my channel and now, they want to be a lorry driver.” He adds, “They’ll say they’re going to do their HGV training now and then a few weeks later they’ll send me a picture of them holding their pass certificate in front of a truck.”
Training to become a driver
The UK government has several initiatives to encourage more people to become truck drivers.4 These include apprenticeship schemes, training programmes, and financial incentives to help people get started in the industry. This includes the free HGV Driver Skills Bootcamps, which are available directly through training providers.5 Skills Bootcamp places are in great demand, and the government has made a further 4,000 places available for 2023.
According to Richard Smith, Managing Director of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), “HGV driving tests reached record numbers this year, comparing March 2022 figures of 6,307 passes with 4,268 in March 2017.” He says that positive media coverage and the RHA’s own skills campaign have contributed to these improvements. The increased numbers show how a flexible, fully funded training programme can have a positive impact on the industry.6
The RHA offers driver training courses and is launching three new apprenticeships for 2023 to help hauliers recruit and train new drivers.7, 8 The RHA’s Skills Funding Guide helps transport operators find training programmes that suit their business needs and provides guidance on how to use the Apprenticeship Levy, a fund that contributes to the cost of apprentice training.9
Looking back on 2022, Smith added, “The RHA has scored hard-won progress on many of the key issues we have campaigned for on behalf of our members. Among these successes is the £34.5 million investment from the government to train 11,000 new HGV drivers. HGV driving was added to the government’s list of Skills Bootcamps and the Bootcamps have been extended for another year, allowing even more drivers to be trained.”
More needs to be done
It’s critical for the government and other organisations to do more to address the issues contributing to the driver shortage to protect the supply chain and support economic growth. The RHA has consistently lobbied for long-term government funding for Skills Bootcamps as alternative training for drivers. Through their Roadside Facilities Campaign, they have created a petition and secured £52.5 million from the government for improving driver facilities. This includes creating more safe and secure parking, improving the standard and security of driver facilities, and focusing on the importance of overall driver welfare and wellbeing.10
What transport operators can do to attract new drivers
While many operators still rely on time-consuming, paper-based processes and disconnected systems, haulier companies should consider the needs of the modern workforce. According to a PwC report, “Millennials have specific expectations about how technology is used in the workplace. They expect the technologies that empower their personal lives to also drive communication and innovation in the workplace.”11
A PwC report on the future of logistics says that digital fitness and adopting digital technologies will be crucial for business success in the logistics industry. Forward-thinking transport operators have long since realised that it will have the added benefit of making them attractive as employers for the next generation of qualified drivers.
A transport management system or transport management software (TMS), for example, can streamline processes and alleviate much of the frustration and stress that drivers face. Integrated driver mobile apps make it easy for transport managers to manage schedules, communicate updates, and make real-time changes to journeys. Other features such as electronic proof of delivery (ePOD) mean drivers don’t have to worry about losing paper PODs, and route optimisation helps them to avoid getting stuck in traffic or having to look for alternative routes themselves, helping them to reach each job on time. Innovative TMS providers are continually enhancing their software capabilities to make life easier for operators and drivers alike.
Appreciating our haulier heroes
HGV drivers are a vital part of the UK’s economic success, they’re the unsung heroes who deliver everything we need, keeping the economy moving. If we are to fuel economic growth despite the current constraints of the recession, it’s in our best interests to continue to find ways to support our drivers and do everything in our power to ensure that sufficient numbers of new drivers are trained and ready to work.