Industry bodies are calling for retired HGV drivers to come back to work, fill the shortage and repair global logistics operations
Retirement is the biggest cause of the HGV driver shortage, beating Brexit, pay, and poaching, according to the Road Haulage Association (RHA).
In a sign of how desperate the situation has become the RHA, CBI and Federation of Small Businesses have jointly signed an open letter urging the UK government to make it easier for retired HGV drivers to return to work and fill the gap.
ONS data says the UK is 100,000 drivers short with numbers having fallen by 53,000 in the last four years alone. But efforts to fix the problem have amounted to poaching drivers from rivals, temporary visas to draw people back from the EU, and now pulling drivers out of retirement, none of which stand up as long-term solutions as they don’t bring in new people.
Here, Supply Management takes a look at some of the challenges hauliers are facing and opportunities to attract new drivers into the industry.
What’s not working
1. The ongoing impact of Covid
According to the RHA, in a typical year, 72,000 candidates train to become HGV drivers with around 40,000 succeeding. The complete shutdown of vocational driving tests throughout much of last year resulted in the loss of over 30,000 test slots and only 15,000 were able to complete training successfully – a drop of 25,000 from the previous year. But as training centres have opened up many test appointments are going unused.
Firms need to reassure potential applicants that it is safe to return to test centres, to improve training to increase the proportion of passes, and draw in new demographics to apply.
2. Immigration rules aren’t helping
Just 127 foreign HGV drivers applied to work in Britain under the government’s emergency scheme to tackle the petrol crisis, and even though 3,700 more visas have been opened up, some are skeptical it will make any difference.
Business immigration expert at law firm Brabners, Laura Darnley, said: “These new visas need to be applied for by 1 December and only last until 28 February 2022, and don’t offer any residency – so why would drivers from Europe be excited by it?
"There are driver vacancies in Europe too, so even with wages rising here, there is no great pull. European drivers can instead join the likes of Amazon on shifts that keep them more local, and offer better hours and work-life balance.”
3. Blame IR35
Richard Burnett, CEO of RHA said: “The introduction of IR35 has resulted in agency labour withdrawing their services as low-profit margin logistics businesses (typically 2-3%) cannot sustain demands for £5-£6 per hour rate increases.”
Opportunities for new drivers
1. Increase the appeal for women
Exclude 50% of the population and you have a ready-made recruitment problem, and that’s what the haulage sector has suffered from for years, according to experts. Just 1% of lorry drivers are women, with many put off by the lack of washing services, as well as being forced to sleep overnight in laybys – so-called tramping.
One firm, JJ Foodservice is trying to make a difference. It’s just launched a campaign to attract more female drivers, by highlighting how technological advances have taken away much of the physicality of the job.
A spokesperson at driver recruitment specialist, Berry Recruitment, said: “There is a misconception drivers need to be big, strong, and mechanically adept, but this is not the case. Thanks to power steering, automatic gears and hydraulic workings and home from home comforts that are now available in the cabs, modern HGV’s do not live up to this misconception.”
2. Tackle the image problem
The industry needs to increase its appeal to new demographics, including women and young people, but also adapt to offer more flexible working conditions that fit people’s lifestyles.
Alliance Manchester Business School professor of work psychology and wellbeing, Sheena Johnson, said: “I’ve personally interviewed 30-40 haulage drivers for research with the HSE. While many take great pride in their work and would recommend driving to their family, they told us there was a negative view about the sector as a whole and its professionalism.”
Efforts are being made to tackle this. Recruiter, Manpower has recently launched a Driver Academy. Speaking to SM, Mick Skerrett driver development manager, Manpower UK said: “One of the problems we know about is that despite the love of driving, for many once they advance and get used to a more regular schedule it’s hard to return to the road.”
According to Johnson, too many drivers aren’t offered part time work to retain them. She said: “The average age of drivers is mid-50s, but the sector has been bad at offering part time work. We found many wanted to work two or three days a week, but it was either full-time hours or nothing.”
3. Commit to ongoing training programmes
HGV drivers are required by law to do 35 hours of periodic training within a five-year period to keep their Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC). Some claim that older drivers are reluctant to do this, and would prefer to leave the company or risk non-compliance. A new approach to the benefits and ease of continued professional development would help retain more drivers.
4. Use psychology to target the right candidates
Proxima VP Neil Jordon said: “The simple fact is that we’re losing more people than are coming in because this job requires a certain type of person. It’s lonely and overnight stays on the roadside are normal.
"What’s really apparent is that it’s not pay that’s the problem, it’s better terms and conditions that are needed. As a nation we’ve not invested in roadside amenities.”
So is progress being made? According to HR GO Recruit, its clients partner with drivers earlier to plan their shifts weeks in advance. It also claims more are investigating job shares and part-time roles.
Jordan added: “We’re also seeing companies reach out to ex-forces personnel – people not only with skills driving heavy vehicles, but also people who are more self reliant and more mentally tough to work by themselves for long periods of time.”