The current situation

Driving has played a key role in the UK economy for many years, as the country’s infrastructure relies heavily on drivers and HGVs to transport goods nationwide. However, the true importance of this sector and those that work within it has been overlooked until recently.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of the logistics industry to the nation – to transport essential goods including food and medical supplies and cemented the drivers’ key worker status – carrying out essential work to keep the UK moving in times of uncertainty and strife.

However, as daily headlines report, the industry is facing significant challenges in the form of an unprecedented shortage of drivers. Indeed, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has estimated there is a 100,000 shortage of HGV drivers across the UK [1]. And this shortage is now really starting to bite –  – you only have to go to your local supermarket and see the empty shelves to notice this, while headlines such as McDonald’s running out of milkshakes, Nando’s running out of chicken and supermarket chains warning of shortages in the run up to Christmas are rife. And it’s not just the supply of goods that is affected; services are too with some local councils suspending refuse or recycling collections, citing the driver shortage as the reason.

Brexit too has played a part in the current shortage, as many European drivers have been forced to return home to Europe creating a shortfall in the number of qualified HGV drivers servicing the UK. However, it is not the only factor. Over the last 18 months we have seen HGV drivers transition to other roles including becoming delivery van drivers, and seeing the added work-life benefits such roles offer when compared to being on the road, away from home for extended periods of time, they have chosen not to return. Essentially it is the perfect storm.

The seriousness of the current situation can be seen with the  ‘bonus’ war that is now being fought between big brand companies in an attempt to attract drivers. For example, Tesco now offers a £1000 joining bonus for new drivers and Gist a whopping £5000 [2]. Sadly this short term approach of ‘poaching’ drivers from other hauliers will not solve the ongoing issue.

Taking the above into account it is clear to see that we have a very real driver shortage on our hands which will have an increasingly negative impact on a UK economy already struggling to recover following the coronavirus pandemic.

 

So, what is currently being done?

The Government has suggested increasing the maximum hours a driver can be on the road in a 24-hour period. However, this is not without health and safety risks and poses its own challenges. Working drivers harder is not going to help in the long-term. Particularly in an industry that already faces recruitment challenges and one that has seen people move to van driving due to perceived better conditions and because they are already disillusioned with the industry.

It has also been suggested that they will soon announce a reduction in HGV driver testing process, which while a welcomed change given the current backlog is unlikely to solve the immediate demands.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA), among others, is calling for ministers to add HGV drivers to the Home Office Shortage Occupation List (SOL) meaning EU workers can be granted special dispensation to apply for visas to enter the UK to work in this profession as a temporary measure in an attempt to reduce the shortage while we find a more permanent solution. This is something we support at Gi Group to prevent further disruption to the UKs supply chain.

However, although  these measures may help in the short-term, they do not address some of the fundamental issues the sector is experiencing and more needs to be done to help boost this flailing industry.

 

Looking to the long-term solutions

With the driving sector in crisis, we must look to more long-term solutions to ensure the productivity and efficacy of the UK’s supply chain going forward. Below are some of our suggestions

 

Boost the number of new HGV driver passes

The number of new HGV driver passes has taken a real hit in recent times as at least 30,000 driving tests were postponed due to COVID-19 between March and December 2020.[3] One suggestion would be for the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to increase the number of examiners to work through the backlog and get some newly qualified drivers on the road.

 

Look at repositioning/rebranding the industry

We need to break down some of the old perceptions of driving – it is no longer the manual job it used to be. HGVs of today are high-tech vehicles which require skill and detailed knowledge to handle, and an HGV licence is now considered a very in-demand qualification. As an industry we need to focus on the skills, promote and remunerate these roles accordingly.

 

Attract next generation of drivers

More needs to be done to highlight the importance of this industry and the integral role drivers play in the UK supply chain. It is vital that driving is viewed as a desirable career path with a focus on attracting the next generation of drivers. The average salary for an HGV Driver is £32,100 which is £2,500 (+8%) higher than the UK’s national average salary. An HGV Driver can expect an average starting salary of £21,300. The highest salaries can exceed £60,000[4]. The hours also offer flexibility and freedom outside of the typical 9-5 workday so there are very real benefits when considering a career in driving.

 

Attract more women to the industry

Currently only 1% of HGV drivers are female [5] and more needs to be done to redress this imbalance. Targeting marketing towards females and removing any barriers to women entering the industry will tap into a previously untouched bank of potential new HGV drivers of the future. As an agency we are proud of the work we have done to attract more women to the industry – running campaigns that coincide with national lorry week that feature our female drivers and why they love their jobs to encourage others to follow suit.

 

Set up academies to sponsor drivers through their qualifications

The cost of a training course plus the tests required to become an HGV driver is around £1500 which could be exclusive for some individuals. By setting up academies, companies can relieve the financial burden on the employee as well as looking ahead through succession planning.

 

Improve working conditions and overall packages for existing drivers

As mentioned, many HGV drivers have become disillusioned with the industry and according to The Observer, the hauliers are proposing to stage a nationwide “stay at home” day over low pay and their working conditions [6]. Many have even made the move to become van drivers where the hours are shorter, less time is spent away from home and the salaries are higher. So now is the time for organisations to really focus on retaining the drivers they have. Look at what improvements can be made to shifts, working conditions, and benefits offered as well as making sure you get the basics around paying correctly and on time right. Consider whether sponsoring future drivers to get their HGV licence is a possibility. It may not address the immediate need but will help to build the pipeline of drivers that you will need going forward. The most important thing any organisation, whether employing permanent drivers or relying on agencies is to look after and retain them. Bonuses may seem attractive, but they are soon spent and will not buy long term loyalty unless all other needs are satisfied.

 

HOW CAN GI GROUP HELP?

As we have seen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the knock-on effects of Brexit have had serious consequences for the driving and logistics sector. The issue is a complicated one and one which will not be simply or quickly resolved.

However, there are things that can be done to help lighten the burden for HGV drivers and the industry as a whole. At Gi Group UK, we are continually working to negotiate the best pay rates and improve conditions for our drivers as well as advising companies on what they can do to both retain existing drivers and attract new drivers.

While the situation is certainly difficult and will take some time to recover; by listening to your drivers’ needs and doing your best to help them overcome any challenges they are facing you will be rewarded in loyalty at a tough time for the sector.

 

[1] https://uk.jobted.com/salary/hgv-driver

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57983698

[3] https://www.retailgazette.co.uk/blog/2021/07/almost-3000-lorry-drivers-plan-strike-over-working-conditions/

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57983698

[5] https://motortransport.co.uk/blog/2021/08/03/driver-shortage-sees-gist-offer-a-5000-bonus-to-new-drivers/

[6] https://logistics.org.uk/media/press-releases/2021/may/shortage-of-hgv-drivers-places-business-recovery-a