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Driver shortage stabilises but more needs to be done

The shortage of HGV drivers topped the news agenda in 2021.

Stories about staff shortages leading to missed deliveries of food, pharmaceuticals, fuel and other essential goods and services frequently made the front pages of national newspapers, while the shortage of drivers was widely attributed to Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic and a host of other factors. Now the story has largely receded from public view, is it safe to assume the worst is behind us or does the problem simply persist but without the attendant publicity?


While the driver shortage began to show signs of easing in the last quarter of 2021, the UK’s logistics sector is still facing an unprecedented skills crisis, characterised by chronic (long lasting) and acute (sudden and severe) phases. The chronic shortage stems from the recession in 2008, which led to many drivers leaving the industry and not returning when the economy began to recover. The economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the reduction of EU drivers working in the UK following Brexit have been identified as the two main factors leading to the current acute phase.


There were 49,000 fewer drivers in employment in the last quarter of 2021 compared to a year earlier, according to analysis from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey for Q4 2021. This means the workforce is 15.6% smaller than it was before the pandemic. As this is broadly similar to the third quarter for 2021 when there was a fall of 44,000 or 14% compared to a year earlier, it would appear that numbers have stabilised. This compares favourably to the much larger fall of 72,000 seen in the second quarter of 2021.


Shortages are not confined to HGV driver roles either, with substantial decreases in the availability of staff for many Level 2 qualified roles, including fitters, mechanics and technicians to forklift drivers. Level 2 roles (requiring a GCSE-level of education) make up more than two-thirds of roles in the UK logistics sector, against a national average of just 40%. Addressing this shortfall requires a combination of training, higher pay or immigration.


To help resolve the driver shortage, the government introduced more than 30 measures in 2021, following extensive campaigning and close engagement with Logistics UK and other trade bodies.

These measures include securing £32.5 million to upgrade lorry parking facilities, £10 million of training support in England through the HGV driver Skills Bootcamps scheme, and investment in the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s (DVSA) capacity to test driving test candidates.


In early 2021, the Education Secretary confirmed that funding for the Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) Driver C+E Apprenticeship would increase to £7,000 from 1 August 2021, after the Trailblazer Group rejected the previously announced £6,000. The new Category C+E Apprenticeship also included a £3,000 sign-on bonus for employers for new apprentices with an employment start date from 1 October 2021 to 31 January 2022.

Alexandra Herdman, Public Policy Manager, Logistics UK, said: “Despite a welcome package of measures introduced by the government last year, employers are still reporting difficulties recruiting for skilled roles such as HGV drivers, mechanics and forklift drivers. This contrasts with recruitment for roles that do not require a specific qualification or licence, such as van drivers, which saw a net increase of 17,000 in the last quarter of 2021 compared to a year earlier.”


Apprenticeship starts in logistics have been below the government target since 2015. During the 2019/20 financial year, a little over one in seven (15%) of Apprenticeship Levy-paying employer accounts fully utilised the funds available to them.

“In our submission to the Chancellor ahead of the Budget, we urged government to review the funding model for the Apprenticeship Levy to ensure that it is working for all sectors,” Herdman said, “More flexibility in how the Levy can be spent could lead to increased apprenticeship starts, allowing more companies to utilise the funding available, while meeting the needs of their business.”

Logistics UK will also be making a full and detailed response to the Department for Transport’s Transport labour market and skills consultation, which considers the barriers and opportunities to developing skills and careers across the transport sector.


Published On: 07/04/2022 16:00:49


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