Is the UK facing an HGV driver shortage in 2024?

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The average age of an HGV driver in the UK is 51, indicating that a significant portion of the workforce is approaching retirement within the next decade. What does this mean for the road transport industry, and are we on the brink of an HGV driver shortage in 2024?

In recent years, the UK road haulage industry has grappled with a significant shortage of HGV drivers. The crisis peaked in 2021 when the Road Haulage Association reported a staggering shortfall of over 100,000 qualified drivers.

But where do we stand now? 

With record numbers of haulage businesses and warehouses collapsing in recent years, is the HGV driver shortage still a pressing issue?

What were the underlying causes of the shortage?

And how effective have the government’s interventions been in addressing this concern?

Let’s take a look…

Is there a UK HGV driver shortage in 2024?

As of 2024, we believe that the HGV driver shortage is less critical but remains a concern. According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 6,000 fewer delivery and courier drivers in the UK from April 2022 to March 2023 compared to the previous year – highlighting that the problem persists, even if it’s not as severe as before.

Further statistics reveal that an alarming 55 per cent of HGV drivers in the UK are aged between 50 and 65, with an average age of 51. This indicates that a significant portion of the workforce will be retiring within the next decade. And while this might not pose an immediate crisis, it does raise concerns about the future supply of drivers.

Figures show that drivers believe there is no HGV driver shortage

Despite this, though, it must be noted that many drivers appear to think otherwise.

SNAP recently asked truckers to respond to a government consultation about measures to plug the skills gap. While valid concerns were raised, 72.5 per cent of drivers surveyed disagreed with the statement regarding the driver shortage, explaining that there isn’t one.

However, there was an acknowledgement that people were avoiding joining the industry. Of the 72.5 per cent who believe there is no driver shortage, 28 per cent suggested that low pay steered experienced drivers away and did not offer enough incentive to new drivers.

Fagan & Whalley’s Sam Fagan commented: “Ultimately, we’re of the opinion that the UK is still experiencing a notable shortage of experienced HGV drivers. Despite evident improvements since the peak of the crisis in 2021, there are valid concerns that the issue may worsen in the near future due to an ageing workforce, insufficient replacements and general negative perceptions.

“This isn’t an immediate problem for us here at Fagan & Whalley, but it’s something we’re careful not to overlook or underestimate.”

What caused the UK’s HGV Driver Shortage?

To understand the current state of the industry, it’s essential to examine the root causes of the UK’s HGV driver shortage. The HGV driver shortage throughout the UK was triggered by a cocktail of factors, resulting in a perfect storm of chaos for our industry. Key factors include…

Ageing workforce

  • 55 per cent of HGV drivers are aged between 50 and 65
  • The average age of HGV drivers in the UK is 51

Firstly, the HGV driver sector has long been known to have an ageing workforce. With the average age of a driver being 51, many lorry drivers will be heading towards retirement in the next ten years. This data suggests that UK truck drivers are ‘ageing out’ and is indicative of much more critical HGV driver shortages to come if no action is taken. 

There are also concerns that the industry is difficult or unwelcoming to new, freshly passed HGV drivers. While experienced drivers are undoubtedly desirable for any haulage and logistics firm, overlooking newcomers due to a lack of industry experience, training costs, or potential insurance premiums could create a worsening skill shortage in the long term.

This ties closely to our next point…

Negative industry perceptions

  • Less than 1 per cent of HGV drivers are under 25
  • 62 per cent of drivers are dissatisfied with roadside facilities in the UK

With less than 1 per cent of HGV drivers under the age of 25, it appears that, whether due to difficulty entering the sector or lack of job desirability, fewer young people are seeking out driving careers. We believe that, despite the industry’s vital significance to the country’s supply chain, there are many misconceptions about the career, and improvements are still to be made across the sector as a whole.

The role is known for long working hours, poor roadside facilities, demanding work conditions and comparatively low salaries. Indeed, of the 72.5 per cent of truckers surveyed by SNAP who did not believe in the driver shortage, 28 per cent admitted that low pay did not incentivise new applicants to join the industry.

One driver responded to the survey, “I have an HGV license but no desire to use it. I currently earn more per hour as a driving instructor. It’s not a driver shortage at all,” while another responded, “Pay the drivers more money and give them better facilities.”

At Fagan & Whalley, we seek to challenge these perceptions by embracing our people-focused culture. With a dedicated Wellbeing Committee, extensive investments in staff development and training, and innovative strategies to improve work-life balance, we strive to create a more appealing environment for both current and prospective employees. 

Brexit

Furthermore, post-Brexit changes to immigration rules saw up to 20,000 EU-national drivers leave the UK, with many citing uncertainty over their rights to live and work in the UK as the reason for leaving.

Additionally, the increased complexity of post-Brexit paperwork and customs procedures has made the UK less attractive to foreign drivers, who can often get similar pay and better working conditions elsewhere in Europe. 

COVID-19

  • 40,000+ HGV driving tests were cancelled during the pandemic
  • Many lifelong drivers retired early during the pandemic
  • Increased demand for delivery services

Finally, the pandemic also caused widespread disruption within our industry, leading the DVSA to cancel over 40,000 HGV driving tests. Additionally, many lifelong drivers chose to retire early during the pandemic due to health concerns and changing work conditions. This, alongside the increased demand for delivery services, only intensified the need for HGV drivers, further exacerbating the shortage. 

All of these combined factors have created ongoing challenges for the transportation and logistics industry in the UK.

What has been done to tackle the UK’s HGV driver shortage?

As explained earlier, although the HGV driver shortage is less critical than it once was, it shouldn’t be dismissed entirely from our concerns in 2024.

Here at Fagan & Whalley, we are proud members of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), where our Director, Sam Fagan, serves on the Board of Directors. This grants us a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities faced by the wider haulage industry and allows us to positively impact and influence change.

To address the HGV driver shortage, the UK government has introduced up to 33 new initiatives and campaigns aimed at alleviating the issue. Key measures include:

Improving HGV roadside facilities

The government has allocated up to £100 million to enhance roadside facilities for HGV drivers. This investment aims to improve rest stops and amenities, making the profession more appealing and comfortable for drivers. This follows extensive campaigning from the RHA, which we are proud to have been a part of. 

Addressing the skills shortage

Furthermore, the government has also just announced that their scheme to train new HGV drivers, fill vacancies, and help the UK driver shortage has been extended to February 2026. 

This offers an end-to-end programme that lasts 16 weeks and provides anyone who holds a full UK driving licence with the chance to gain a fully subsidised Cat C or C + E licence. The scheme cost £34 million and has trained just over 11,000 people to become HGV drivers.

Likewise, at Fagan & Whalley, we’re proud to have launched our own in-house driver training scheme called ‘Future-bound’ back in 2021. This was launched at the peak of the HGV driver shortage to encourage interest in the transport industry and make driving careers more accessible. 

Increasing wages

Finally, the general consensus to increase driver wages has been another significant step towards resolving the HGV driver shortage. By offering more competitive salaries, the industry aims to attract new entrants and retain existing drivers. 

Higher wages not only make the profession more appealing but also recognise the critical role that drivers play in maintaining the supply chain. 

Choose Fagan & Whalley for your logistics insights…

So there we have it. We believe that the government’s proactive measures, coupled with industry efforts from the likes of the RHA and Fagan & Whalley to increase the number of HGV drivers, are pivotal in shaping a sustainable future for the haulage sector. 

The progress made so far is promising, but continuous efforts are essential. With collective action and strategic interventions, we can ensure that the UK’s transportation and logistics industry remains robust and capable of meeting future demands.

Has the industry learnt from our previous mistakes? Only time will tell…

Subscribe to our LinkedIn newsletter for more logistics industry insights or call us on 01282 771983 if you have any questions about our services. 

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