HGV Driver Shortages in the UK– An Ongoing Challenge

Over the last two years, the culmination of Brexit, Covid and the resulting boom of eCommerce has hit the freight industry hard, causing a severe HGV driver shortage in the UK.

For the latter part of 2021, the news was filled with headlines on the current HGV driver shortage facing the UK and Europe. Over the last two years, the culmination of Brexit, Covid and the resulting boom of eCommerce has hit the freight industry hard, causing a severe HGV driver shortage in the UK.

How many HGV drivers is the UK short of?

Throughout the pandemic, the UK’s professional drivers have kept our shops, homes and businesses supplied with all the essentials needed to keep the economy going, but the current workforce is now struggling to keep up with demand. A Road Haulage Association (RHA) survey of its members estimates that there is now a shortage of more than 100,000 qualified drivers in the UK, and that number includes thousands of drivers from European Union (EU) member states who were previously living and working in the UK.

HGV driver shortages
HGV driver shortages

Steve White, UK Managing Director of JPGL, provides an insight into the shortages currently facing the industry:

The HGV driver shortage has actually been ongoing internationally and in the UK for a number of years. Numbers have increased as a result of Brexit and Covid-19, bringing the issue to the forefront.

It has been estimated that between 20,000 and 25,000 drivers left the UK and returned to the EU. As a result, the numbers have just gone up steadily to a position now where there’s a driver shortage of approximately 100,000 in the UK. Across Europe, there is a driver shortage in Germany of about 60,000, and Poland is short of approximately 120,000 drivers, so it’s a far-reaching problem. There has also been a trend of older drivers leaving the profession as they have grown impatient with queues at ports, the increasing demands of the job, periodic driver training and other legal requirements.

What are the other challenges has the logistics industry been facing?

The driver shortage has not been the only challenge facing the logistics industry. Equipment shortages have been a problem throughout the last year. Subcontracted equipment, drivers with trailers, general vehicles for distribution and container shortages have all been making an impact. With the global shipping crisis hitting the UK and with congestion at UK ports since the onset of Brexit, this has a knock-on effect on drivers’ turnaround times in respect of getting equipment and containers from ports for haulier companies throughout the UK.

How has the UK Government helped with the issue of HGV driver shortages?

The UK Government has been proactive in trying to manage the shortages that the logistics industry are facing and have implemented various initiatives to help including, granting 5000 visas to EU drivers. In the first few weeks of this programme, there were 142 applications, however, the EU is competing for these drivers as well, and the post-Brexit problems with visas does put off potential applicants for the role. Companies have also been facing challenges when trying to recruit the younger generation as they aren’t interested in long-distance driving and want to be close to their families, as such, they are more interested in doing final mile deliveries.

Work is in progress by the UK government to make the industry more attractive profession by offering incentives. Along with other companies, the Government is investing around £30 million into the industry to provide better salaries and training boot camps. Plus, they want to revamp the roadside services specifically for HGV drivers. Unfortunately, during lockdown, there were a lack of respite options for drivers, and this prompted the positive outcome that this needs to change.

How long is the shortage of HGV drivers expected to last?

It is predicted that the shortage of drivers will continue well into spring, but the shipping and container crisis could potentially go on for another six to nine months. ECommerce has boomed over recent months, increasing demand for deliveries, and throughout the UK and Europe, logistics companies are working hard to minimise disruption for their customers.

The UK Government has sanctioned the involvement of Ministry of Defence examiners who are helping with the training of new HGV drivers and there have also been increases in the number of driver test slots to help speed up the process of getting new drivers on the road.

Although the industry is not out of the woods yet, the UK Government are implementing strategies to help logistics firms manage the current crisis. It is also the responsibility of each logistics firm to build great working relationships with agents and subcontractors to keep momentum in the industry and not fall foul of the current shortages.