Tuesday, June 8, 2021

As HGV Driver Shortage Reaches Catastrophic Levels Comes a Plan for the Future

Road Haulage Needs to Promote Itself and Entice Government Support
Shipping News Feature

UK – The chronic shortage of commercial truck drivers afflicting not only Britain but further afield in some continental countries is seemingly getting worse with the average age of UK HGV drivers now standing in the mid to late fifties.

In the past few years the stock of qualified drivers has dwindled compared to the demand, with more retiring than entering the profession. This can partially be ascribed to the need for more qualifications. Whereas previously drivers had qualified through ‘grandfathers rights’ with many automatically accepted for HGV licences, and others having earned the right through service in the armed forces, now there is a set progression through the ranks to reach Class 1 status for example.

There is however a cultural difference which may actually be the prominent factor in the paucity of youngsters looking to enter the profession. In Germany for example the fully qualified driver is viewed for what he or she is, a professional. In the UK the traditional view of a long distance driver is more a fat man surviving on bacon sandwiches, doing a job he took for lack of qualifications for anything else.

The shortage has however had a predictable effect. Whereas the demand for van drivers is also keen, those jobs available are often the ‘last mile’ multi-drop deliveries for such as the ecommerce companies, not the most attractive either financially or in terms of job satisfaction. Compare this with the current status of a Class 1 HGV driver where wages now sit at an all-time high.

The attraction of such work is often lost on the pool of youngsters which the industry needs to come forward and train. In addition the job is arguably much easier in some ways in the modern era, cabs with power steering and every visual aid and tachographs having put paid to some of the working practices which stained the character of the road haulage industry in days long gone, when unscrupulous employers would wring every minute and mile from the figure in the cab, often illegally.

The week the Road Haulage Association (RHA) issued a statement saying the UK HGV driver shortage has now hit catastrophic proportions and the organisation has now published its own 12-point plan aimed at tackling the situation. RHA Chief Executive, Richard Burnett said:

“The upturn in the economy since Covid-19 is increasing demand across supply chains and the reopening of non-essential retail outlets and parts of the hospitality sector is making the situation even worse. The pandemic also resulted in the loss of about 12 months of driver training and testing.

”The long-term ineffectiveness of apprenticeships for lorry drivers and the general hostility from authorities and Government is also unhelpful for recruiting and retaining drivers. We need Government to act and address the driver shortage for the industry and the drivers. While we welcome the increase in HGV apprenticeship funding to £7,000, this barely scratches the surface of the problem.”

The RHA says that the situation has now meant freight rates are rising to a level that operators are finding unsustainable, with costs having to be passed on to consumers. The full details of the RHA proposals are viewable here, but the main 12 points are:

  1. Include HGV drivers on Government’s Skilled Worker Shortage Occupation List
  2. Coronavirus recovery – a seasonal visa scheme for qualified HGV drivers
  3. Continued priority driving tests for HGV drivers
  4. Establish a ‘Return to HGV Driving’ scheme
  5. Better promotion of the job and the sector as a whole
  6. Apprenticeship funding gap for C+E drivers in England and Wales
  7. Apprenticeships for Class C drivers
  8. An SME-focused HGV driver training scheme
  9. An independent HGV independent training loan scheme
  10. Other training schemes – DWP pilots/Road to Logistics
  11. Increase productivity of the road network
  12. Improve site productivity and the treatment of drivers at collection and delivery points

Whilst there are arguments in favour of all the above, that point number five is possibly the most crucial. The entire logistics profession has the opportunity post-Covid to tell the world how vital are the services which continue to maintain supplies to the general public, no matter what the difficulties. Failure to do so will mean too few entering a realm of the industry which is a vital link in the supply chain.