The skills shortage we’re experiencing in the UK and Ireland is one of our most significant issues. According to the Logistics UK research conducted between 2011 and 2021, the average driver shortage number was 45,000. While driver data for 2022 is still unknown, the figures we do know show how significant the shortage is.
Adversity is the mother of invention, and the challenges supply chains are facing are no different. However, after collaborating with our customers, industry, government, academia and other sources, I’m confident that new solutions can be developed to eliminate the symptoms affecting our supply chains while ensuring a more sustainable model.
The pandemic taught us that organizations could be more agile than they’ve historically been. This is an opportunity. We have the agility, intelligence and resources to reshape the future supply chain.
Why are we experiencing a driver shortage?
The pandemic accelerated changes in consumer shopping behavior: more people bought more things online more frequently than before. The pace at which this change occurred put a strain on supply chains, most heavily when lockdowns occurred and manufacturing was affected.
During the recovery, much of the transition to online consumer purchasing remained while traditional retail recommenced. In addition, the economic recovery across other market verticals, including construction and industrial, meant a tremendous demand for drivers to deliver goods. Demand massively outstripped driver availability, and some drivers who spent the worst of the pandemic at home have chosen not to return.
Heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers can’t be hired as quickly as other roles because there is – rightly – a qualification barrier, meaning that non-HGV drivers need training, requiring time and money.
The issue isn’t new or unique to the UK – it’s global. This phenomenon has affected supply chains across the world.
This statistic from Logistics UK puts the driver shortage in perspective: from 2019 to 2021, there has been a 23.4% decrease in the total number of HGV drivers in the UK (from 302,000 to 236,000).
What is the industry doing to attract drivers?
Being a driver is a rewarding profession with significant benefits, including competitive compensation. Drivers also play a crucial role in ensuring the economy functions well.
Pay is one of the primary areas that companies have addressed to attract and retain drivers, as a short-term response to the shortage. According to Logistics UK research, in the nine months to the end of 2021, average gross driver pay awards increased by nearly 18%. Some classes of HGV drivers were hired at rates almost 30% higher than regular pay. Median HGV driver pay was between £13.08 (US$17.20) and £13.51 (US$17.77) per hour, depending on the source. The average salary was higher, at £14 (US$18.41), meaning there was a tendency to give significant pay raises in some companies.
Many transport providers take a longer-term view of the shortage by creating comprehensive solutions, including different ways of managing their current workforces. For example, some companies position driver roles as an advancement opportunity by upskilling their employees. Others are cross-training drivers across various disciplines to be versatile in fulfilling different customer needs.
Leveraging qualified drivers is another potential solution to explore. For example, we can hire drivers on an expedited timetable by seeking out people who hold Category C or C+E licenses and incentivizing them to rejoin the HGV driving workforce.
Through government support, the industry has been able to defray the cost of driver education through external schools, training and upskilling programs. HGV driver training can cost several thousand pounds. Alleviating or lessening that barrier to entry provides companies with access to more candidates.
There are also more significant systemic issues that need to be addressed to increase the quality of life for drivers on the road. For example, there’s a chronic shortage of safe parking spaces for drivers to use when taking their legally required rest breaks. By building new facilities and improving existing ones, we can ensure the busiest parts of the road network are comfortable for drivers.
Can technology help address the problem?
There’s an approach to solving the driver shortage that doesn’t get a lot of press but has significant potential. By using social media to reach a younger audience, transport companies can present driving as a career option to many people who may not have considered it.
This would help lower the average applicant age profile and, ultimately, the age profile of licensed drivers. A shift in age demographic would have a long-term benefit to the industry because there’s a shortage of young people training to become HGV drivers. In 2021, the percentage of drivers under 45 years of age was 37.5%, down from 41.7% in 2019 (Logistics UK).
Despite the best minds in the private sector working diligently to solve the driver shortage, we won’t have a clear answer to the problem immediately. I firmly believe, though, that solid cooperation between teams of people will solve the problem. So, while a single solution is unlikely, solutions will be found and implemented. I have too much confidence in the ability of those working in our sector to think otherwise.