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Supply Chain Risk from UK HGV driver shortage

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We look at how the UK’s current shortage of HGV drivers is impacting supply chains, what this means for the industry, and why it is more important than ever to retain a skilled HGV driver workforce

Traffic caught in motion on motorway

How serious is the shortage of lorry drivers?

Media reports are increasingly covering stories of major businesses, especially those in food retail, restaurants, construction and manufacturing, where products are no longer available, or services have been temporarily suspended due to supply chain issues.  These issues have been largely blamed on a national shortage of HGV drivers throughout the UK, resulting in deliveries being delayed or cancelled due to the reduced number of professional lorry drivers available.

The Road Haulage Association is reporting a shortage of 60,000 drivers in the UK, and individual firms are reporting vacancy rates of up to 25% of the driver workforce.

Why is the UK experiencing shortages in HGV drivers?

Covid, Brexit and other factors have all contributed to the growing crisis, meaning there simply aren’t enough drivers to meet demand.

As travel became increasingly restricted last year through the Covid pandemic, the UK experienced large parts of the economy significantly reduce or completely shut down.  One direct result is that many European drivers returned to their home countries.  As travel restrictions have remained in place throughout Europe, haulage companies have reported that very few European drivers have returned.

Brexit has also had a significant impact.  Of the pre-pandemic estimated total of 600,000 lorry drivers working in the UK (Road Haulage Association member survey data), it is understood that this number includes tens of thousands of drivers from EU member states who were living and working in the UK.

The additional border bureaucracy post-Brexit has resulted in EU member state drivers choosing to find work outside of the UK, especially as many drivers are paid by the mile or kilometre rather than by the hour, so delays have significant financial impact upon a drivers’ earnings.

Are enough new HGV drivers entering the market?

Another direct consequence of the Covid pandemic is that there is now a large backlog in HGV driver tests, with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) conducting 43% fewer HGV tests during 2020 than in 2019.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said in a letter to the prime minister in June that there were 25,000 fewer candidates passing their test in 2020 than in 2019.

In a government statement, the DVSA has already worked to ensure almost 1,500 HGV drivers pass their driving test every week in an attempt to reduce the current backlog.

What is being done to increase the UK’s HGV workforce?

In June 2021, Ministers unveiled a package of measures to tackle the HGV driver shortage and hopefully relieve pressure on the transport sector.

A consultation was launched on allowing drivers to take one test to drive both an articulated and rigid lorry.  The Government suggests that this would streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence, increasing lorry test appointment availability.

The Government is also looking to help the road haulage sector improve the working conditions of drivers – another key factor in addressing the shortage. 

Logistics UK data estimated that more than 1,400 lorry drivers have no choice but to sleep overnight in their cabs due to a chronic lack of safe and secure parking facilities.

The Government says it will support the industry to offer more official parking spaces for lorry drivers and look at ways to improve the standard of lorry parks across the UK’s road network.

Haulage companies are currently petitioning for foreign drivers to be added to what is known as the Shortage Occupations list, allowing them to qualify for a skilled worker visa.  This would make it far less bureaucratic for EU member state drivers to return to working in the UK.

Employers are also leading the way, having introduced schemes such as a £1,000 joining bonus, as well as offering hourly rate pay increases higher than the national average.  These schemes have however come under recent scrutiny, seeing drivers simply move from one employer to another, rather than encourage new HGV drivers into the market.

What can logistics and transport companies do to retain and attract new HGV drivers?

HGV drivers are recognised throughout the UK for their valuable contribution to keeping the country supplied with essentials throughout the pandemic and various lockdowns, however the continuing resource shortages are adding even more pressure to those remaining HGV drivers. 

Whilst the Government is working to improve welfare conditions for HGV drivers, with improved, more secure parking and restroom facilities, there are a number of local steps that each employer should consider to help retain their highly valuable HGV driver workforce.

While many drivers will typically go for the highest hourly rate, it isn’t always the case, especially for those more experienced drivers and the ones you want to retain and recognise.   A £1,000 joining bonus is very attractive, but retaining the driver for a few months could be costly mid-to-long-term, especially if the drivers’ performance is not particularly high, with a potentially high frequency of incidents, drivers hours infringements, complaints and higher fuel consumption.   It therefore stands for reason that retention of highly experienced well managed and supported drivers would be an employers’ preference.

Defining the ideal culture for a logistics or transport company to aid driver retention has been achieved by many of the nation’s transport companies, regardless of fleet size.  Other businesses looking to make changes can learn a great deal from successful fleets, as well as investing in effective support mechanisms from driver welfare and wellbeing to effective training and safety. 

Most drivers do not intentionally want to drive badly or dangerously, but when a driver is disengaged, feel undervalued or respected, then this can lead to negative and disruptive behaviour making employers regret taking on a new driver in the first place.  While a short-term fix of urgent recruitment is justified, mid-to-long-term strategic thinking, reviewing and/or implementing the correct driver policies, driver management and training are all essential ingredients to get right in the first instance.  This is not a quick fix, and some transport companies may require some support to achieve their short, mid and long-term ambitions around driver recruitment and retention.

There are many organisations and businesses out there to support fleet management.  At Licence Bureau, part of the wider TTC Group, a number of solutions are available from driving licence acquisition courses through to more consultative engagement around policy writing, driver compliance solutions and training.

The TTC Group have a network of LGV and PCV licence acquisition partners located around the UK as well as having access to over 60 driver CPC trainers throughout the UK.  Specialist courses such as driver assessor training and provision of assessment documentation is an essential programme to utilise the knowledgeable and skilled resource within any organisation, which can be used to mentor and support new drivers coming into the industry.  Some transport companies may want to take the step of implementing their own academy programme and invest in developing their own drivers and embedding the ideal culture within the driver community?

The big question you are thinking is ‘how much is this going to cost?’  We at TTC would ask a slightly different question.

The transport sector, and the whole nation, is currently at a tipping point and the dilemma facing each and every one of us, as a consumer and employer, is how much are we willing to pay for things?

We are here to help

We at TTC Group have been delivering professional driver training for nearly 30 years.  We deliver courses on behalf of commercial fleets, transport organisations, as well as Police and court referred courses for drivers that have committed driving offences such as speeding and drink driving.

TTC Group has developed a blend of eLearning, workshop, on-road and online courses, designed to engage with drivers and genuinely develop their skills to become safer, more efficient and highly skilled drivers, no matter their vehicle.

The Continuum platform is used to help organisations manage their driver risk and compliance, providing real-time data and valuable insight into your driver workforce.

If you would just like to know about how any of our services could help meet your organisation’s objectives, drop us a line.

Licence Bureau is now part of the TTC Group