Is there a shortage of UK Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers in 2024?

As of 2024, the UK still faces a notable shortage of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers, although the situation has shown signs of improvement compared to the crisis points of previous years.

Checking Driver CPC Hours

We recently met with Roshan Mooppath, a student pursuing my MSc in Supply Chain Management and Logistics at Leeds Beckett University who was doing his postgraduate dissertation research.

He was conducting an in-depth study on the shortage of heavy vehicle drivers in the UK, exploring its causes, impacts, and potential solutions which led us to putting the article together.

What are the root causes of the HGV Driver shortage?

The root causes of this shortage are multifaceted, including the impact of Brexit, which has made it more challenging for EU drivers to work in the UK due to the need for additional documentation and visas.

The COVID-19 pandemic also played a role by disrupting training and testing processes for new drivers, and the war in Ukraine has contributed to the shortage by leading many Ukrainian drivers to return home.

UK government addressing the shortage

Despite these challenges, efforts have been made to address the shortage. The UK government has implemented 33 initiatives aimed at easing the situation, including relaxing rules for late-night supermarket deliveries, introducing driver training bootcamps, and increasing the number of available HGV driving tests. 

Working conditions for HGV drivers

Employers have also played their part by improving working conditions and offering higher starting salaries for new drivers, some of which exceed £40,000.

However, the HGV driver employment level has remained stubbornly at 2019 levels, indicating a persistent shortage of around 60,000 drivers. 

HGV driver vacancies

A decline in HGV businesses reporting driver vacancies, from 43% in the last quarter of 2021 to 23% in the third quarter of 2023, suggests some improvement.

Yet, the primary reasons for driver vacancies have shifted only slightly, with better pay or benefits elsewhere remaining the top reason cited by businesses.

HGV Driver at night

How long will the HGV driver shortage last?

Despite these efforts, the industry’s challenges are far from resolved, and predictions suggest that the shortage could continue to impact supply chains and pricing for some time, potentially until 2032.

This ongoing shortage highlights the need for continued and possibly innovative approaches to attract new drivers into the profession, including addressing issues related to pay, working conditions, and the public perception of the profession​.

How are businesses coping with the shortage of HGV drivers in 2024?

In response to the HGV driver shortage, UK businesses are implementing strategies to mitigate its effects. These include offering higher wages and financial incentives to attract and retain drivers, investing in driver training programmes to expand the available workforce, and optimising logistics and distribution methods.

Adjustments such as altering delivery schedules and routes are also being made to enhance efficiency amid the shortage, aiming to ensure that supply chains and delivery services remain as uninterrupted as possible.

Is it still worth becoming a HGV Driver in 2024?

Becoming an HGV driver in 2024 can still be worthwhile, especially considering the measures taken to address driver shortages. Increased starting salaries, now often exceeding £40,000, and improved working conditions show the industry’s commitment to attracting new entrants.

Additionally, the demand for drivers remains high, offering job security. However, it’s essential to weigh these benefits against the job’s demands, such as long hours and time away from home. Prospective drivers should also consider the ongoing efforts to improve the profession and the evolving logistics landscape.

hgv driver unloading

What does the RHA say about the driver shortages?

“The skills shortage in the road transport sector is a significant issue which continues to affect supply chains. Although the investment in HGV skills bootcamps has helped to reduce the HGV driver shortage, there is a significant lack of bus and coach drivers and heavy vehicle technicians.”

“A record number (over 450) haulage businesses have collapsed in the last 12 months, more than double the number two years ago.”

“Operating costs for a typical 44-tonne HGV have increased by almost 10% (excluding fuel costs), based on the RHA’s own survey of its member businesses. This is in addition to a 20% increase in operating costs in 2022.”

FAQs

Common questions people ask around the HGV driver shortage in the UK.

Is it hard to pass a HGV driving test?2024-04-16T14:50:50+01:00

Passing an HGV (Heavy Goods Vehicle) driving test in the UK can be challenging due to the comprehensive nature of the test and the skills required to operate large vehicles safely. Here are several factors that contribute to the difficulty of the test:

  1. Training and Preparation: Proper training is crucial. The process involves acquiring a standard car driving license, then undergoing additional professional training to handle large vehicles. This includes learning specific manoeuvres, safety protocols, and handling the vehicle under various road conditions.
  2. Theory Test: Before the practical test, candidates must pass a theory test, which includes questions on HGV regulations, road safety, and vehicle maintenance. This also includes a hazard perception test.
  3. CPC Qualification: Drivers must obtain the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC), which includes further tests and regular training every five years to ensure skills and knowledge are up-to-date.
  4. Practical Test: The practical part of the HGV test is comprehensive, covering vehicle safety questions, practical road driving, and off-road exercises. The practical road driving test assesses the driver’s ability to interact safely with traffic, while off-road exercises test their ability to maneuver the vehicle in confined spaces.
  5. Medical Standards: HGV drivers must meet higher medical standards than those for regular car drivers. This includes more stringent eyesight requirements and checks for other medical conditions that could affect driving ability.
  6. Cost and Time: The time and financial investment needed to prepare for and pass the HGV driving tests can also be substantial, which might add to the stress and difficulty of the process.

Overall, while the test is challenging, with proper preparation and training, many candidates successfully obtain their HGV licence. The rigorous nature of the test ensures that only drivers who are competent and knowledgeable about safe driving practices are certified to operate heavy goods vehicles on public roads.

Are UK HGV drivers underpaid?2024-04-16T14:46:49+01:00

The question of whether UK HGV drivers are underpaid is complex and often subject to debate. Several factors contribute to the perception and reality regarding the pay of HGV drivers in the UK:

  1. Comparison with Other Countries: When compared to some other countries, particularly those with higher living costs and stronger currency values like Norway or Switzerland, UK HGV drivers may seem underpaid. However, salaries must be considered within the context of local living costs and economic conditions.
  2. Cost of Living: The cost of living in the UK, especially in urban areas or the South of England, can be quite high. When considering the long hours and demanding nature of HGV driving, many drivers and industry analysts argue that the pay does not sufficiently cover the cost of living, making the profession less attractive.
  3. Industry Challenges: The HGV sector in the UK has faced several challenges, including driver shortages, which are often attributed to the lack of attractive pay relative to the demands of the job. This shortage has occasionally led to temporary wage increases, particularly in times of high demand or during crises like the fuel shortages or during the Christmas season.
  4. Regulations and Expenses: UK drivers must comply with numerous regulations, and the cost of qualifications and licenses can be high. When these factors are not adequately compensated through wages, the net take-home pay may feel insufficient.
  5. Market Conditions: The market dynamics of supply and demand also play a role. With a notable shortage of drivers, there has been pressure on employers to increase wages to attract and retain drivers, suggesting that previous wage levels may not have been competitive.
  6. Working Conditions: Beyond just pay, working conditions such as long hours, time away from home, and physical demands also impact how the compensation is perceived.

In summary, while UK HGV drivers have seen wage improvements in certain situations, there remains a widespread view among drivers and industry experts that the wages do not fully reflect the demands and costs associated with the profession, contributing to ongoing discussions about pay increases and improvements in working conditions.

Which countries pay the most for HGV drivers?2024-04-16T14:43:15+01:00

The salaries for HGV drivers can vary significantly depending on the country, reflecting differences in living costs, regulations, and demands for transport services. As of the latest data, countries that typically offer higher wages for HGV drivers include:

  1. United States: HGV drivers in the U.S., especially those operating in specific sectors like hazardous materials or oversized loads, can earn significantly higher wages compared to many other countries. Annual salaries can range widely, but specialised drivers can earn $60,000 or more.
  2. Australia: Due to strict regulations and a high demand for drivers across vast geographic distances, Australian HGV drivers also earn competitive salaries, often ranging from AUD 70,000 to AUD 100,000 per year.
  3. Norway: As with many professions in Norway, HGV drivers benefit from high wages due to the country’s overall high cost of living and strong labor protections. Salaries in Norway for drivers can be quite high compared to the European average.
  4. Canada: In Canada, HGV drivers’ salaries vary by province and driving routes, but they are generally well-compensated due to the extensive transport of goods across long distances, especially in remote areas.
  5. Germany: Known for its strong economy and manufacturing sector, Germany offers robust wages for HGV drivers, particularly those with experience and who operate in specialised logistics roles.
  6. Switzerland: Similar to Norway, Switzerland offers high salaries across various professions due to the high cost of living and high standards of living. HGV drivers are no exception.

These salaries reflect the economic conditions, demand for transport, cost of living, and regulatory environments in each country. Drivers in countries with a higher cost of living or more stringent driving regulations tend to earn more to compensate for these factors.

Why do HGV drivers leave their jobs?2024-04-16T14:41:17+01:00

HGV drivers often leave their jobs due to several key factors that impact their satisfaction and work-life balance:

  1. Long and Unpredictable Hours: The nature of the job often requires long hours on the road, which can be unpredictable due to traffic conditions, delays at borders or delivery points, and strict delivery schedules. This can lead to a challenging work-life balance, making the job less attractive over time.
  2. Health Concerns: Spending extended periods sitting and driving can lead to various health issues, including back pain, obesity, and cardiovascular problems. The irregular hours and difficulty in maintaining a healthy lifestyle while on the road also contribute to these concerns.
  3. Low Pay Relative to Demands: Although pay rates can vary, many drivers feel that the compensation does not adequately reflect the long hours, responsibility, and stress associated with the job. This can be especially true in cases where wages have not kept pace with inflation or cost of living increases.
  4. Poor Working Conditions: Conditions such as lack of access to clean and safe rest facilities, difficulty finding healthy food options, and limited social interaction can detract from the job’s appeal.
  5. Lack of Career Advancement: Some drivers leave due to a perceived lack of career progression or training opportunities to advance within the industry.
  6. Regulatory Burdens: Compliance with strict regulations regarding driving hours, rest periods, and record-keeping can add to the stress of the job. Changes in regulations can also affect job stability and satisfaction.
  7. Retirement: A significant proportion of the driver workforce is older, and retirement is a common reason for leaving the job. This is compounded by the physical demands of the job, which can make it difficult to continue as they age.

Addressing these issues through better pay, improved working conditions, health support, and more flexible scheduling can help retain drivers and attract new ones to the industry.

What is the average wage of a UK HGV driver?2024-04-16T14:55:04+01:00
As of the most recent data, the average wage for a Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) driver in the UK varies, typically ranging between £28,000 and £35,000 per year. However, this can fluctuate based on factors such as experience, location, and the specific company. Because of the HGV driver shortage, some salaries now exceed £40,000.
Some experienced drivers, especially those who take on more challenging routes or manage hazardous materials, can earn significantly more. The demand for HGV drivers has also been known to impact wages, with shortages often leading to temporary increases in pay rates.
Why does the UK have a shortage of lorry drivers?2024-04-16T14:33:20+01:00

The shortage of lorry drivers in the UK is influenced by a combination of factors:

  1. Brexit: The UK’s departure from the European Union led to a significant decrease in the number of EU nationals working in the UK. Many EU lorry drivers left the UK job market due to the uncertainty over residency rights, changes in immigration laws, and the end of freedom of movement between the UK and EU countries.
  2. COVID-19 Pandemic: The pandemic exacerbated the situation by delaying driving tests and training for new drivers, leading to a backlog of individuals unable to enter the profession at a time when demand was increasing.
  3. Ageing Workforce: The lorry driver workforce in the UK is ageing, with a significant proportion of drivers nearing retirement. There has been a lack of younger drivers entering the industry to replace those retiring.
  4. Working Conditions and Pay: Lorry driving is often perceived as a tough career choice due to long hours, time away from home, and relatively low pay considering the demands of the job. These factors can deter new entrants into the profession.
  5. Regulatory Issues: Changes in taxation and regulation, such as the IR35 tax reforms, have impacted the earnings and working conditions of self-employed drivers, making the profession less attractive.

Efforts to address these issues include increasing wages, improving working conditions, streamlining the qualification process, and creating more flexible working arrangements to attract a broader range of applicants to the profession.

What is the average age of a UK HGV driver?2024-04-11T10:40:33+01:00

The average age of HGV drivers in the UK is notably high, which contributes to the industry’s concerns about a workforce nearing retirement and the need for new entrants. According to information from the House of Lords Library, the average age of an HGV driver is around 55, with less than 1% of drivers under the age of 25.

This situation underlines the demographic challenges facing the sector, including a significant proportion of drivers over the age of 50 and the implications for recruitment and retention​ (House of Lords Library)​. This poses a challenge for the industry as it seeks to attract younger drivers to mitigate the effects of an aging workforce.

These statistics indicate a pressing need for the industry to address not only the immediate challenges of driver shortages but also the longer-term sustainability of its workforce. Efforts to attract younger drivers and diversify the demographic profile of the workforce are crucial for the future health of the transport and logistics sector in the UK.

Further Reading

Official Statistics: Heavy Goods Vehicle Driver Vacancies in the United Kingdom: October 2021 to September 2023.

Find out about the 33 actions the UK government is taking to deal with the shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers in the UK.

RHA Spring budget briefing.

Roshan’s Course:  https://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/courses/supply-chain-management-logistics-msc/

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