HGV Driver Shortage – Is the Shortfall Diminishing?

There has been a HGV driver shortage in the UK for many years, and the shortages became a much more pressing issue in 2021.  The driver shortage reached a critical point last year when multiple factors including Brexit, the global Covid-19 pandemic, and an ageing HGV workforce collided to create widespread HGV driver shortages.

The shortfall in HGV drivers did not just happen overnight.  It was created by the culmination of many different factors that interplayed to exacerbate an existing situation.  Let’s have a look at some of the main causes of the chronic shortage of HGV drivers.

What are the Reasons that Led to HGV Driver Shortages?

Whilst there were many different reasons that led to the HGV driver shortages, the ones listed below were probably the most impactful:

  • Ageing driver workforce and driver retention

Historically, the haulage and fleet industry has had one of the oldest workforces in place in the United Kingdom. The average age of an HGV driver is 55.  According to Statista, approximately 45% of HGV drivers in the UK will be at retirement age within the next five to ten years.  This indicates that the driver shortage is likely to continue as seasoned and experienced HGV drivers begin to retire.  As a result, there is a particular demand for younger HGV drivers to enter the industry. Retaining HGV drivers continues to be a problem for the industry.

  • Brexit

Statistics indicate that thousands of European drivers left the UK HGV industry following Brexit.  In addition, the haulage industry was having to deal with the implications of leaving the EU and the new rules relating to transportation and travel.

  • Global Pandemic

Successive lockdowns led to the closure of driver test centres, and this led to a backlog of those awaiting tests and obtaining the licences.  According to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, the backlog is likely to only be cleared this year.  Logistics UK has indicated that even if HGV driver numbers stabilise, there is a worrying shortage of skills that will remain.

  • Online Shopping

The rapid increase in online shopping has meant that the demand has exceeded the ability of businesses to supply.  Existing shortages of drivers have reached crisis levels in the supply chains that have struggled to retain and recruit drivers.

According to the ONS UK labour market review, 30,000 HGV drivers entered and re-entered the haulage industry between July – September 2021.  This meant that the driver shortage was significantly eased, however, this did not ease the pressure on the industry to recruit more drivers.  There are still significant shortages in the HGV driver workforce as the impact of Brexit and those leaving the workforce continue to be felt.

What Was the Impact of Driver Shortages?

The impact of the HGV driver shortage was felt throughout the haulage industry and beyond.  The supply chain was affected, this in turn affected businesses and ordinary people who found shopping shelves empty.

The Government’s Response to Driver Shortages

The Government acted quickly to increase the number of HGV drivers by increasing the driving test capacity.  As a result, the number of drivers under 35 entering the industry grew by 5,000 according to Driver Require (a logistics think tank group).

The Government has introduced HGV driver visas for 5000 drivers, but this needs to be extended.  Since 2020, approximately 12,500 EU nationals have left the HGV industry, so the shortfall remains a real issue.

Another response from the Government has been to reduce the cost of training and enforce better working hours for drivers to facilitate better working conditions.  Reducing the cost of training and making it easier to obtain the HGV licence means that the barriers to entering the profession are being minimised. 

This coupled with the increase in pay rates being offered by employers has made the profession far more attractive to potential drivers.

Although the Government did try to mobilise the military to take on deliveries during the height of the pandemic, this was only a short-term solution with no real long-term benefit to the sector or to logistics operations.

Driver Shortage Continues

According to the Road Haulage Association, there is still a significant shortage of HGV drivers.   The retiring drivers need to be replaced, and whilst there is evidence that the industry is managing to recruit a younger workforce, there is still a significant gap to be plugged to ensure deliveries of goods are kept running.

The increase in wages, and the opportunity to work independently and away from an office desk appear to be a big draw for many drivers (old and new).  A Bristol logistics firm is reporting an increase in new apprentices who are wanting to enter the industry so the signs are looking promising.

The image of the industry has also been revamped. Traditionally viewed as an unglamorous industry with long hours and loneliness, the opportunity to earn well and be trained up, and have a guaranteed job is bringing in new people to the sector.

However, as more and more people found themselves in lockdown during the pandemic, the rates of online shopping increased significantly and have continued to increase to this day.  This has put significant pressure on the industry to keep logistics and supply chains moving to meet the increasing demand for goods.  

It is an excellent time to enter the HGV industry as a driver, with pay rates the highest they have ever been and some firms offering signing on bonuses.  Some firms are aiming to recruit from those sectors who may not have historically considered HGV driving as a career such as women and former offenders. Logistics firms are using the power of social media to drive advertising with the aim of recruiting from a wider pool of people.

Certainly, for those looking to enter the profession, there has never been a better time.  Employers are increasing the pay, there is a clear career path for those who are committed to the industry, working conditions are improving and the Government is working to facilitate further improvement to the industry.


HGV Insurance

Heavy goods vehicles need comprehensive insurance to ensure the vehicle is protected alongside the driver and the goods carried by the vehicle. Depending on the business you work for, you may need a non-standard and bespoke insurance policy.

ISIS Insurance offers a wide variety of insurance options and quotes that cover everything a HGV might need when it comes to insurance, from skip lorries to refrigerated vehicles.