In January 2022, the HGV industry was around 100,000 drivers short of capacity. Now that number stands at closer to 60,000 according to Logistics UK.
Several factors have helped close the gap. Employers have improved working conditions, demand for drivers has reduced due to an economic slowdown, and the government has implemented successful policies to address recruitment, training and testing.
However, the industry has suffered from long-term shortage for nearly a decade and this has normalised a chronic situation. Without a doubt more needs to be done. The question is, how can the government and industry work together to make a difference?
The government has made strides in addressing the acute HGV driver shortage over the past year implementing numerous actions to tackle the shortfall and protect the supply chains.
These included making changes to simplify the testing process, recruiting more driving examiners to help make more tests available in the areas of where demand is highest, and removing a testing requirement for some driving categories (such a towing a trailer).
We subsequently saw a huge increase in HGV driving tests. Official statistics revealed that 74% more lorry tests were carried out between January and March 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The government also made 11,000 funded HGV driver training places available through HGV Skills Bootcamps.
These bootcamps addressed one of the biggest barriers to entry into the industry – the cost of training.
Craig Baker Driver Training one of the UK’s leading training providers said “last year we took a lot of customers from the Bootcamp although that seems to be a bit quiet now i think the scheme needs to keep going or we will end up in the same situation again in a couple of years”
The industry also has a key role to play. Employers have addressed pay and conditions to some extent, with many new drivers looking at starting salaries upwards of £40,000k.
Training is a significant factor when it comes to recruitment and retention. Upskilling offers a major opportunity for the industry, making the most of existing staff, while offering employees opportunities for increased pay and career progression.
The existing training landscape can be confusing and challenging to navigate for trainees, employees, and employers. By better structuring and streamlining HGV driving careers, there can be clearer pathways about how to get into the industry and how drivers can develop.
What’s more, many logistics operators are hamstrung by both the logistical complexity and financial cost of training new and existing drivers. The funds required for premises, lorries and instructors can be significant, and with no experience in managing training courses, the process becomes too drawn out to be effective.
As a result, many operators are increasingly turning to fully managed, outsourced driver training. This centralises the process and takes care of trainees through the whole journey, from the medical exam to the test itself. This allows for faster driver training, helping mitigate the pressures operators service providers face, as well as reduce the cost.
The measures that both government and industry have taken so far are working well. But now is not the time for complacency.
With the right policies the government is helping improve the situation. We believe the government should commit long-term to their Skills Bootcamps in HGV Driving, reflecting the scheme’s success and its ability to reach underrepresented sections in our society. We believe that a longer-term commitment is crucial to the overall health of the logistics sector, especially as individuals are finding it far harder to self-fund than ever before as course costs increase, and people’s disposable income decreases.
The House of Commons Transport Select Committee has already made this recommendation. Last year, the committee argued: “the government should make the provision of skills bootcamps for HGV drivers permanent, with part of the scheme targeted at underrepresented groups in the current workforce.” With the cost of living continuing to outpace wages, it’s an issue of utmost importance.
There’s also a compelling argument to make further reforms around the training regime. We believe that amending the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) would make a notable difference. Instead of requiring drivers to undertake an arbitrary 35 hours of training, CPC courses could be modular and range from advanced driving skills, health and safety, hazardous loads and more.
Such courses should encourage incremental development that allows drivers to take more responsibility, command a higher salary and feel they are developing in their career. Industry can support this by looking at their training strategy and ensure they are making the most of existing budgets and teams. In theory we could end up with a situation where we have Level 1, Level 2 …. Level 20 drivers based on their experience and CPD.
Combined, these actions will help tackle the chronic shortage that remains within the industry once and for all.