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As the founder and joint-CEO of Specialised HGV Training Services, I have seen a progressive worsening and deepening of the UK’s HGV driver shortage. What started at the turn of the decade as a few companies struggling to fill their roles has snowballed in a full blow national crisis. In this article, I explain what the driver shortage is, how we got to this situation, and to what extent it is affecting the jobs market.

50,000 HGV Vacancies as usual

There is a cold hard reality in the logistics industry at the moment – and that is that there are just not enough HGV drivers in the UK. I don’t think you will find a trade body, government minister, transport manager, or recruiter that will dispute that fact.

The figure that resonates with most with that there are 50,000 driver vacancies in the UK and that this statistic has been accurate for roughly five years now. It seems to be that despite best efforts (apprenticeship schemes, more HGV tests nationally, greater awareness) that number isn’t going down. However, why is that?

Put just, the number of drivers either retiring (driving is an old man’s game), leaving the industry (there are many jaded drivers out there), or leaving the country (Brexit) is roughly equal to the number of new drivers coming into the industry either through new licence acquisition or new European drivers working in the UK. This means that as it stands we have a status quo in this industry and whilst it isn’t ideal, we’ve managed for the last five years, haven’t we? So what’s the panic?

LGV Truck stops

The Problems with HGV Driver Shortage

Well first of all, it’s not been OK for five years. With a chronic HGV driver shortage, there are continual mass job vacancies. This leads to drivers having zero loyalty to the companies they work for as there is always another job offer close by – and let’s be honest, the grass always seems greener. Consequently, drivers will often leave to work for another company for 20p per hour, seemingly better shift patterns or simply for a change of scene. In that sort of cut-throat atmosphere, recruitment agencies experience the unmanageable task of trying to provide the necessary number of drivers to their clients at the right times whilst juggling some of the highest drop rates in any industry as drivers find pastures new. So with such a high turnover, and margins so tight, it’s almost impossible to meet the logistical needs of companies.

Moreover this high turnover and low margin model we are currently in means that companies are not prepared to invest in their staff. There is little investment in working conditions, next to no CPD above and beyond stagnant Periodic CPC sessions (one day a year), and few perks for the driver. All of this adds to the lack of loyalty and predictability that companies and agencies know all too well.

What is clear is that nobody is really winning at the moment. Agencies can’t supply their clients with drivers, companies can’t meet their logistical needs, and drivers are overworked and undervalued with companies unwilling to invest in drivers that could jump ship at any time. What is clear is the current situation is not sustainable, and after five years we are reaching a breaking point. All that is happening is that the existing workforce rotates across companies, plugging vacancies in one place and simultaneously creating them in others. It’s HGV whack-a-mole and it’s only going to get worse.

 

Getting Worse!

How’s it getting worse? Well, take for example the average age of a driver, which is currently 48 and increasing. This devastating statistic and means that whatever shortage we have now, it’s only going to get worse as the rate of retirement outstrips the rate of new employment. Years of bad planning, historic low pay, underinvestment, undertraining, poor conditions and poor opportunity has meant that becoming an HGV driver has not been on many people’s radar as a career choice. Moreover, many of the current driving crops came from the armed forces at a time when the army went through a significant decrease in size during the 1980s and 1990s – and those drivers are now retiring en-mass. Fortunately (for the army) the army isn’t shrinking much further so that tap of pre-qualified drivers has more or less switched off. So the reality is that the driver shortage isn’t even in a status quo, it’s getting worse and that’s without taking into account intangibles such as Brexit and the increasing logistical requirements of modern consumerism in the UK.

But nothing that I have written so far is new. We know the HGV driver shortage is the problem, it’s chronic, and it’s getting worse. However, the real problem is where the vacancies are: and that is with C+E drivers (Class 1). The truth is that to really understand where the HGV driver shortage is, go and look at the depots and you’ll see it’s articulated lorries sitting driverless in the yard. So if you scratch beneath the surface you’ll know that saying there’s an “HGV driver shortage” isn’t good enough.

 

Actually, we have a Class 1 Crisis in logistics.

Author

James clifford- CEO Specialised Training services

James Clifford
CEO, Specialised Training Services

 

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