The HGV driver shortage is still making headlines across the UK, with supply chains under extreme pressure of a UK-wide short fall of 90,000 of these critical workers. With HGV drivers at the heart of Northern Ireland’s supply chains – their work helps to ensure the nation and its supermarkets, schools and hospitals are stocked with all the necessary essentials – it is vital that this issue is resolved quickly.
In this month’s column, I will provide an overview of the causes, the proposed solutions as well as an update on Logistics UK’s campaign work to guide government towards a resolution.
While there was a shortage of HGV drivers prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, these two events have exacerbated the situation, leading to the crisis we see today. The pandemic halted driver training and testing for more than 12 months, leading to a backlog of more than 26,000 positive tests, while an estimated 14,000 EU drivers returned home during the pandemic and following the end of the transition period.
Longer-term contributory factors include the poor facilities available to drivers while on the road, including a lack of sufficient overnight parking spaces, which continues to be a huge impediment to attracting more people to join the industry.
The logistics industry is committed to employing domestic drivers to overcome the current shortage. But while these drivers are trained and qualify into the workforce, which can take up to nine months, and DVSA works through its backlog of outstanding HGV driver tests – which we estimate could take until early 2022 – temporary visas made available for European workers would help to overcome the current supply chain problems experienced across the UK.
The industry needs drivers now, and we are urging the government to replicate its temporary visa scheme, introduced for agricultural workers and already in place for seven industries, for logistics to keep trucks and vans moving in the short term. While the government has rejected this call, we will continue to press upon the authorities that this is the only solution available to deal with the immediate, short-term crisis, while new domestic HGV drivers enter the workforce train and qualify, a process which can take up to nine months.
Logistics UK is also urging the government to review longer-term measures, such as implementing funded training to open the industry up to as many people as possible and counteracting the long-term recruitment issues which logistics has faced for many years, such as poor welfare facilities.
Three years ago, the government pledged to increase the availability of secure, safe parking spaces for lorry drivers, but has not delivered on its promise.
Rest facilities across the UK’s road network lag far behind those available on the continent, and it is imperative that the welfare of drivers is prioritised to encourage new recruits to enter the industry. Logistics UK would also like to see more government support, in the form of interest-free loans or grants to aid those looking to retrain into this vital role, similar to the university loans scheme.
Businesses within the logistics industry are already playing their part to attract workers, with many increasing pay rates, offering bonuses, and implementing internal training schemes. Logistics UK itself is working closely with
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)Job Centre Plus network to link individuals to roles in logistics, and also supports Think Logistics’ campaign to attract young people into the profession. The business group is coordinating a weekend of activity nationwide, called “Discover Logistics Careers,” from 28 November to 1 December, during which member businesses are being encouraged to open up their premises to potential employees to educate them about the work of the sector, provide work experience opportunities and advertise current job vacancies. To find out more about how to get involved, please visit logistics.org.uk/discover-logistics-careers
Locally here in Northern Ireland, Logistics UK is working with local government on a proposed new all age apprenticeship that could potentially be fully funded and available to those wishing to become HGV drivers. If successful, this new apprenticeship could be ready for delivery by the end of 2021.
The logistics industry is committed to protecting Northern Ireland’s supply chains, but it needs the right government support to do so. Logistics UK will continue to press government for decisive action on the HGV driver shortage to tackle both the long- and short-term causes that have led to the crisis we see today.