McDonalds has run out of milkshakes, Nando’s and KFC are struggling to stock enough chicken, and the Co-Op says it faces the worst food shortages in recent memory. In a world already in turmoil, a HGV driver crisis is yet another unwanted head-ache….
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) reports that there is a monumental shortage of drivers. It says that 100, 000 drivers are desperately needed to keep critical supply chains moving. The situation is at a breaking point.
As the backlog is getting increasingly worse, containers are stacking up at ports. Tesco has told ministers nearly 50 tonnes of fresh food intended for its stores is being thrown away every week. Naturally, this will mean some products won’t be available, and the price of some goods are expected to rise dramatically.
Things have also been worsened by the ‘pingdemic’. England is suffering from disruption to bin collection, transport and food supply as staff have to self-isolate. Hope came when the prime minister announced that from August 16th those who are double-vaccinated won’t have to self-isolate if they test negative. Yet, that measure alone is not going to cure the problem.
The Prime Minister has subsequently handed his new Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove the task of ‘fixing’ the shortfall in HGV drivers and its knock on effects. Mr Johnson is reportedly concerned that he may “have to cancel Christmas again.” The issue became even more pressing when reports emerged that there may not be enough heavy goods vehicles to supply the winter flu vaccines to vulnerable people in the U.K.
From looking at the below graph that shows what industry insiders believe are the main causes of the hgv driver shortage, we’ve identified 8 strategies the Mr Gove can employ for easing the crisis both right now and with a long-term view.
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New Training Pathways Are Emerging
James Clifford, CEO of training firm HGVT, says that the average age of a driver is currently 48 and only seems to be increasing as a result of today’s shortage. Clifford says, it is “only going to get worse as the rate of retirement outstrips the rate of new employment.”
Despite efforts to offer apprenticeship schemes, more HGV tests nationally and greater awareness of the tens of thousands of HGV vacancies, the number of drivers is still low. Brexit and the pandemic have exacerbated the problem two-fold.
Could Expanding The Youth Mobility Scheme Solve The Crisis?
To combat the driver crisis, the Road Haulage Association is urging the government to expand the existing Youth Mobility Scheme. This scheme is currently open to young people in selected countries outside of Europe, excluding EU and EEA residents.
RHA’s proposed changes would allow people under 30 from the EU and EEA to work in the UK under the scheme. They believe that it would allow us to fill the gap created by the current labour shortage, giving the UK access to 2,000 to 4,000 qualified drivers. Many other EU and EEA citizens also have compatible qualifications that would make them eligible.
Fast Tracking Training And Fast Tracking Trainers
Paul Morgain, HGV Driving Instructor, told the BBC that he thinks the average onboarding time of a lorry driver is unacceptable. It is 16 months and he believes it can be turned around in half that time. Speeding up the process could help plug the 100,00 driver shortfall a lot faster. The length of the course leads only 20% of starters to complete the qualification.
Morgain estimates that it takes around 30-40 weeks to get a driver ready to get behind the wheel of a truck. The process begins with a medical and progresses to 3 theory tests. There’s 8-10 weeks waiting time for results, if you fail then you start the process again. The DVSA are very strict about the number of tests they’ll allocate training centres per week.
HGV Instructor Morgan also believes the number of Driver and Vehicle Safety Standards Agency (DSVA) examiners is causing a bottleneck. He suggests that instructors should be fast-tracked as examiners to help expedite the process. The Driver and Vehicle Safety Standards Agency commented that they have already ‘increased the number of vocational tests to 3,000 from 2,000 per week via overtime and allocating extra employees into testing’.
Covid-19 also put driver training and testing for new lorry drivers on hold for 12 months. The pandemic also put a delay in processing paper applications due to ongoing industrial action and social distancing requirements, which has meant fewer staff than usual on site.
A Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency spokesperson said: “By law, all drivers must meet the medical standards for fitness to drive at all times when driving. We are prioritising HGV provisional licence applications which are being issued in around two weeks, and HGV licence applications which are currently being issued in around four weeks. More complex transactions, for example if medical investigations are needed as part of a driving licence application, may face longer delays.”.
Bernard Davies, who runs haulage firm ATB Davies said “If you want a Class 1 now and you’ve got to do a Class 2 first and you’re looking at £3,500. A training grant scheme might encourage the take up”.
Dumbing Down Or Speeding Up
The government has announced three steps that will be taken to make the driver testing process more efficient.
Firstly, they have eliminated the need for some car drivers who want to tow a trailer to take an additional test. They state that this will enable around 30,000 more HGV tests every single year.
Additionally Transport Minister Grant Shapps said that, “Second, tests will also be made more efficient by removing the reversing exercise element and vehicles with trailers. The uncoupling and recoupling exercise, having that test separately carried out by a third party so, it’s still being done.”
The government’s third measure to make it “quicker to get a licence to drive an articulated vehicle” will be to remove the need to first “get a licence for a smaller vehicle” and this will free up “around 20,000 more HGV tests” every year.
In a sign that they are damned if they do and damned that they don’t, the measures haven’t got down well with all road users. The government has been accused by some commentators of reducing standards to solve the problem. And Labour accused them of being “asleep at the wheel” for taking so long to address the driver shortage.
New Training Programs By Larger Employers
Companies such as building materials supplier Selco have created their own HGV training programmes. Selco is offering staff the chance to become lorry drivers to help ease the nationwide skills shortage.
Selco Builders Warehouse said its new driver academy will create dozens of newly-qualified HGV drivers by next May.
This has come as the company itself is struggling to fill more than driver vacancies. Marc Lucock, human resources director at Selco, says: ‘No industry or business is immune from the shortage and at Selco we currently have more than 20 vacancies to fill and that number is rising’.
On top of this, Selco has hiked its hourly pay rate for HGV drivers to £14 from September 1 and £16 for those in London and the south of England. This is a tactic many companies are using, hoping that better pay will make the profession more attractive.
Higher Wages Are Always An Option
Attracting more applicants to be trained could cause issues in a logistics industry where margins are already tight, especially as shipping costs have rocketed and oil prices have hit a multi-year high. Many drivers are opting for the flexibility and freedom of Uber instead of life as a HGV driver. However, what if being a HGV driver is significantly more lucrative?
If there simply aren’t enough qualified drivers in the country, higher wages is a simple solution to a complicated problem. More than likely, a bidding war will shift the issue from firm to firm. This will be great for the drivers, and companies with deep pockets will get their goods delivered, but may not be a sustainable way to make HGV driving an attractive career again.
Tesco is offering a £1,000 bonus to lorry drivers who join the company before the end of September. Former pilot Aaron Leventhal told the BBC that being a HGV is an attractive and lucrative alternative to his former career. Leventhal said he has seen pay rates for agency drivers in his licence category go from £9 per hour a year ago to up to £30 an hour – plus an extra £5 an hour to pay for a driver’s hotel room.
Bernard Davies of haulage firm ATB said “We’ve had to increase pay by 10% to 12% – we’ve been to the customers and they have agreed to give us a rate increase to cover that. He said a HGV driver now is earning £40,000 a year, up from about £28,000 to £30,000 five years ago. But there are concerns about how sustainable this is for the logistics industry, “somebody’s got to pay for it and it’s going to be the public, not the supermarkets” says Davies.
Working Conditions Must Improve
Problems have been brewing for years in the logistics supply chain, not only because of pay rates but also due to working conditions. A role that requires you to sleep in a cab, work a 70-hour week without the safety net of a secure contract probably isn’t going to entice a stampede of applicants.
Additionally many of the UK’s HGV drivers are deprived of the United Nations (UN) Human Right to sanitation due to the lack of toilet facilities on the national road network. FTA, “the voice of the UK logistics sector”, has been calling for the government to prioritise the provision of sufficient welfare facilities for professional drivers across the UK.
Elizabeth de Jong, Director of UK Policy at FTA, has said: ‘The logistics sector is the lifeblood of the UK economy, ensuring businesses, schools and hospitals are all stocked with the goods they need to operate. But despite the invaluable contribution HGV drivers provide to the economy, they are often denied access to very basic amenities. The inconsistent provision of toilets and other facilities for HGV drivers across the road network is not good enough. It’s Time To Give HGV Drivers The Human Rights They Deserve. Access to hygiene amenities and other welfare services are a basic right for all workers. No other industry would be expected to work without access to toilets, so why should HGV drivers?’ She makes a serious and thought-provoking argument.
The issue was referenced as recently as July, by 3,000 drivers. Despite the Covid crisis shortages, the drivers were prepared to take part in a stay-at-home strike over working conditions. This was against the RHA’s advice.
Lorry driver Mark Schubert said: ‘For far too many years we have been ignored, exploited and taken for granted. Now our time has come, now we have a window of opportunity to be listened to.’ The inability to ensure basic needs such as being able to go to the toilet or take a shower has led to drivers quitting the profession.
Philip Esson, 53, has been driving HGVs for nearly 30 years and runs his own haulage firm, “Last year was an absolute nightmare,” said. “Filling stations would say, ‘You can’t use the toilets because of Covid’. You’d say, ‘I really need to go’ and they’d say, ‘They’re closed, end of story’.
He described” facilities where many drivers are forced to park for the night as ‘hellholes’ that you ‘wouldn’t put your dog in.’
In 2018 the government vowed to improve and expand the provision of facilities for but according to the FTA since that promise, amenities have actually become worse. Security is also an issue at truck parks. Drivers can wake up to find their diesel or even their containers have been stolen.
Better HGV Insurance Options
Its unsurprising, what with this being an insurance blog, that the topic of insurance should come up. Many firms have pointed out that the difficulties and high costs they face in insuring younger HGV drivers, is a major factor preventing new drivers entering the industry.
There are now a number of new insurance options for HGV fleet managers, who are willing to implement sensible risk management processes in order to accommodate younger HGV drivers on to their policy,
Steps they can take include: demonstrating strong driver training programs, installing cameras to vehicles and trailers as well as fitting tracking devices and telematic systems.
Call in the Army
Richard Burnett, who heads the Road Haulage Association (RHA), was responding to reports the government was set to call on HGV specialists from the military, including the Royal Logistics Corps, in an effort to tackle a deteriorating backlog of goods that has seen some supermarket shelves run bare in recent weeks.
There are potentially 2,000 drivers who could take up some of the slack but both the Department for Transport (DfT) and Ministry of Defence (MoD) have signalled that no official request had yet been made.
Burnett said deploying army personnel to help tackle the HGV driver shortage “will not scratch the surface” of the UK’s delivery crisis. Scary times.
Covid At The Worse Time
There’s never a good time for a pandemic to strike but the combination of unresolved Brexit bureaucracy and Covid compliance has prevented thousands of HGV drivers from taking the vacancies that we desperately need filling. Testing requirements will be relaxed for eligible fully vaccinated travellers, who will no longer need to take a PDT when travelling to England from Monday October 4th. Its expected that by the end of October the day two test will be a cheaper lateral flow test. Costs and administrative barriers for potential drivers will be greatly reduced.
So, can the government also designate HGV drivers with key worker status to allow more foreign drivers to enter the UK? This could go some way to filling an element of the demand. A relaxing of both immigration and covid restrictions will also make heading to the UK a more attractive option for these drivers. Many migrants returned home to be with their families at the height of the pandemic, the immigration rules linked to Brexit can’t exactly make them feel eager to return. Freight firms and retailers estimate 25,000 EU drivers returned home during the pandemic and at the end of the Brexit transition period, when freedom of movement between the continent and UK ceased.
Does The Home Office Shortage Occupation Provide A Solution?
The RHA has asked for the introduction of a temporary worker visa for HGV drivers and for this role to be added to the Home Office Shortage Occupation List as it believes the problem needs government intervention.
“Adding HGV lorry drivers to the Shortage Occupation List would help ease the current bottlenecks by enabling firms to bring in the skills they need from outside of the UK when they cannot recruit from the local labour market,” said Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce.
Though aside from the obstacle of a Brexit based political ideology, Transport Minister Grant Shapps doesn’t believe the solution is as simple as this suggestion. He claimed in the House of Commons that other EU countries were facing a worse situation with figures in “Poland of a 120,000 shortage.”
Brexit and Covid Have Combined To Create This Crisis
Many haulage company owners have said that recruitment was infinitely easier before Brexit. However, at present UK ministers are refusing to grant temporary work visas to EU drivers.
They insist the British people voted in a referendum and a general election to end free movement. UK firms, ministers say, should no longer rely on labour from abroad and must invest in the workforce at home instead. The Government is arguing that progress is already being made in testing and hiring, and it says a big push is being made towards improving pay, working conditions and diversity.
RHA has demanded the government relax Brexit immigration rules to allow foreign talent to return on a temporary basis. This will allow the UK to use short-term additional labour while we find a UK based workforce which is going to take at least 18 months to enlist and train.
Hopefully Mr Gove assesses the situation and options available to him quickly. It’s unlikely that the Prime Minister will need to cancel Christmas for the second year running. But only prompt action will prevent the shelves from being depleted when shoppers go looking for their festive treats.
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