The UK’s haulage sector, having struggled for 18 months, is at breaking point. Workers have been leaving the sector at an alarming rate, and there’s now an estimated shortage of over 100,000 drivers.
Measures including offering short-term visas to non-UK nationals have been introduced as immediate solutions, but it’s clear the sector needs a future plan. As well as speeding up the process of new drivers entering the sector, bringing back experienced workers who left is important. This can by done by improving working conditions through the use of technology and HR initiatives.
Hauliers and the government must come together to address this shortage as an urgent priority. This article explores some ways we can do that.
The state of play
A number of factors have contributed to the HGV driver shortage, which has been growing for a while now. According to an RHA member survey, drivers reaching retirement age is the biggest contributor, very closely followed by Brexit.
By 2029, a quarter of the current workforce is expected to have retired. What’s more, the average age of haulage drivers is 57. Additionally, it’s estimated that 80,000 EU nationals left the workforce in the year leading up to the Brexit deadline. Over 40% of hauliers also cited COVID-19, pay rates, and drivers leaving for a different sector as key reasons for the increasing gap.
Getting new employees into the sector has been difficult as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The HGV driver test backlog, which was caused by multiple national lockdowns, has slowed down this progress significantly. All of these factors have led to the driver shortage almost doubling since the beginning of the pandemic, rising from a shortage of 60,000 to over 100,000 in under two years.
The current measures
In July, the government temporarily extended the hours HGV drivers can work – this was due to end on 3rd October but has been further extended to 31st October. This move was met with criticism from the sector. According to Richard Burnett, the RHA’s Chief Executive, this was making the job even less attractive and putting unnecessary additional pressures on an “already exhausted” driver workforce.
On 25th September, a “package of measures” was announced by the government to train new HGV drivers. Up to 4,000 drivers can take part in HGV driver training courses, with 3,000 expected to take part in a “skills bootcamp” in order to gain a category C or C&E licence, while a further 1,000 are expected to access training locally. The Ministry of Defence and the DVSA has committed to providing thousands of additional tests to allow these trainees to enter the workforce as quickly as possible.
The government has also recently announced temporary visas for foreign drivers as a short-term measure, but this has been met with criticism. Representatives from leading organisations including the British Retail Consortium and the European Road Haulers Association have warned that this is not enough to plug a growing gap.
The additional steps we can take
We know that this crisis won’t be solved overnight, and long-term solutions are needed. But, because it’s reaching a breaking point right now, there are more measures that can be taken to plug the gaps.
One option is to look at workers already in haulage businesses. While they may still need to pass the formal tests, they’ll have the benefit of knowing the business and its processes and systems inside out.
Looking at sectors that have workers with similar skills, such as private and public transport drivers, may be useful. But this should be approached with caution – a number of public transport providers, including Go North East, have announced driver shortages.
Some of the drivers who have left the haulage sector may have done so due to poor working conditions – many drivers cite poor company culture, unrealistic expectations, and bad technology as reasons for leaving their haulier businesses in Glassdoor reviews examined by Mandata in its recent whitepaper.
Can driver roles be positioned as more attractive?
If drivers have left the sector because of poor working conditions, it’s important to show them how this has been addressed. These workers are qualified and experienced in the role, and highlighting the positive changes made since they’ve left is important in plugging this critical skills gap.
Interestingly, the Mandata whitepaper also highlighted that bad technology is a source of frustration for drivers and haulage employees. If a job is hindered by the technology required to do it, it’s natural that this would frustrate employees. Hauliers who have invested in market-leading digital technologies like transport management systems will be more attractive to prospective drivers – especially those who have left the sector for this reason.
Are there ways to increase your existing workforce’s output?
The relaxation of the rules on how many hours drivers can work in a day was designed to increase output, but the sector has rightly criticised this for putting additional pressure on already overworked drivers.
There are ways, however, that you can increase your drivers’ output and efficiency without them working more. Through the use of technologies like electronic proof of delivery (ePOD) and smart back-office solutions that allow you to divert drivers if they encounter traffic, you can increase your workforce’s efficiency and allow them to do more in their standard hours.
As well as increasing efficiency, this can also increase their satisfaction – en-route delays can be avoided, meaning they waste less time on the road. Not only can they potentially fit more deliveries in, but these solutions can also make sure they finish on time. The more satisfied your workers are, the more loyal they’ll be to your business.
The sector has been raising concerns about the HGV driver shortage for some time now, and we’re finally seeing some action taken. But due to a myriad of issues such as an ageing workforce, Brexit, and COVID-19, the gap has only widened and has now reached a critical point. While the government announcing support initiatives is welcome, we need a blend of short- and long-term strategies in order to resolve the immediate crisis and ensure the sector is never struggling for drivers again.