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Still a key issue

01 June 2022

Alexandra Herdman asks, where we are now with the HGV driver shortage?

THE NATIONWIDE shortage of HGV drivers may have fallen out of the headlines in recent months, but it remains a key issue that threatens the long-term sustainability and efficiency of supply chain operations in the UK. Although much has already been achieved to address the shortfall in qualified staff, Logistics UK is determined to continue working with its members, government, and other stakeholders to ensure tackling the HGV shortage remains a priority in the months and years to come.

While figures revealed by Logistics UK’s analysis of the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Labour Force Survey indicate that the number of HGV drivers in employment is estimated to have fallen by 30,300 in the first quarter of 2022, a smaller reduction than in Q3 and Q4 2021 which saw falls of 44,000 and 49,000 respectively – the UK’s logistics sector is still facing an unprecedented skills crisis, characterised by chronic and acute phases. The chronic shortage stems from the recession in 2008, which led to many drivers leaving the industry and not returning when the economy began to recover. Long-term factors also include a lack of suitable facilities available for drivers while on the road, including the shortfall of safe and suitable parking spaces in which drivers can take rest breaks, and limited access to toilets, cooked food, and washing facilities. This often makes other careers more attractive to prospective and current workers, impacting both recruitment and retention. The economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent reduction in driving test availability caused by lockdowns, combined with the reduction of EU drivers working in the UK following Brexit, have also been identified as main factors leading to the recent acute phase. 

To help resolve the driver shortage, the government introduced more than 30 measures in 2021, following extensive campaigning by, and close engagement with, Logistics UK and other trade bodies. These measures included £32.5 million to upgrade existing lorry parking facilities, £34 million of training support in England through the HGV driver Skills Bootcamps scheme to train 11,000 new HGV drivers, and investment in increasing the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s (DVSA) capacity to test driving test candidates. 

The latest data from ONS demonstrates that these measures are starting to bear fruit; improved throughputs at DVSA testing facilities have shown that 26,388 practical HGV tests were conducted in Q1 2022, an increase of 43% compared with the same period in 2019. March 2022 saw a record 10,481 tests undertaken, with a 60% pass rate. HGV driver wages have also increased to help retain existing staff and attract new drivers, with advertised salaries for those qualified to drive the heaviest vehicles increasing by an average of 25% in Q1 2022 compared with a year ago. In April 2022, National Highways announced an additional £20 million to boost HGV driver facilities; an encouraging development for industry given the lack of available lorry parking and roadside facilities is one of the main barriers to recruitment.

Despite these positive steps forward, attracting and retaining HGV drivers in the sector remains a critical priority. The greatest proportion of logistics jobs are level 2, which is low to middle-skilled (41.8%). Logistics UK is therefore urging the Department for Education to expand the terms of its National Skills Fund (NSF) – an initiative to help adults train into new careers – to include level 2 qualifications so more people can access training to become HGV drivers, warehouse operatives, mechanics or other vital roles which the logistics industry needs to fill desperately. Among other initiatives, Logistics UK is urging the government to review the funding model for the Apprenticeship Levy to ensure that it is working for all sectors; during the 2019/20 financial year, only a little over one in seven (15%) of Apprenticeship Levy-paying employer accounts fully utilised the funds available to them. Finally, Logistics UK is calling for the Skilled Worker Visa to be reformed to include HGV drivers and mechanics under the list of eligible occupations. 

Alexandra Herdman, public policy manager, Logistics UK 

For more information, visit www.logistics.org.uk