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Examining the UK’s driver shortage

Bluestones One’s regional operations manager for Warrington, Martin Bispham

The UK continues to face a driver shortage, with the deficit staked at between 45,000 – 50,000 HGV drivers this year alone. Logistics recruitment agencies are experiencing the shortage first hand.

Why do you think there is a driver shortage?

Historically, it hasn’t been perceived as an attractive industry. The average age of a heavy goods driver continues to get older because of the lack of fresh blood coming into the industry. If you look at the DVLA stats, there are very few young people working as drivers. It's not often seen as a desirable environment and the cost of gaining an HGV licence can go into the thousands.

Then there’s also the fact that a lot of insurance companies won’t insure a new pass driver – they have to gain 12 months’ experience before they can start a role. But, it’s the age-old thing – how do you gain experience if no one will give you a chance? There are a lot of challenges.It’s now becoming seen as much more of a professional industry to get into now though and the pay rates are slowly creeping up, so positive changes are happening. But, a lot more people are leaving the industry than there are people coming in and that’s the worrying part.  

What is currently being done to combat all those challenges?

A lot of companies are now being pushed into thinking outside the box – large retailers are now running warehouse to wheels projects and other companies are going down the self-insurance route to try and attract more new pass drivers and combat seasonal challenges. There are also lots of incentives and funding available to help drivers through their licence and into the marketplace, but there is still a long way to go. It’s still a big expense for someone that might have just left school or college and wants to get into the industry.

Do you think the government needs to be more involved in combatting the driver shortage?

It’s something companies can’t do on their own – the government need to investigate several elements of the shortage; why there is a lack of new people coming into the industry and what is going to happen post-Brexit. There are some serious economic problems that could occur due to the lack of drivers joining the industry and drivers not wanting to come to the UK from Europe – the whole of the UK could come to a halt due to the lack of HGV drivers. The government need to proactively deal with this more, rather than push it aside.

What do you think recruitment agencies can do themselves to attract and retain more talent?

Firstly, as a recruiter, are we paying the right money? Have we got the balance right with pay rates and driver? Secondly, is the type of work we have and how we are offering it the right way? The balance between the two must be accurate and honest. We could be offering an amazing salary, but if the working conditions or reputation of that company aren’t accurate, then drivers aren’t going to come forward for it or stick at it.

Once you’ve got the driver, it’s about keeping that driver! Drivers now have a lot of choice – it’s very easy for them to move to another agency or company. So, now there is a lot of emphasis on looking after the drivers and being honest with them. It used to be building a relationship with the client, now it’s about building a relationship with the driver and the client.

Do you think drivers need to be recognised more for the work they do?

Traditionally, there is a stereotype of what a lorry driver is but strip that back and lorry drivers are professionals. They are professionals for a reason – they could be driving a 44-tonne truck that could potentially do an extreme amount of damage. It is fundamentally a difficult job and drivers deserve recognition.

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