HGV driver shortages can’t be solved without a long-term strategy

HGV driver shortages have had a huge impact on the UK over the past year, with the combination of Brexit and the pandemic exacerbating the already existing shortages. With current concerns with the supply chain and ongoing shortages expected, a long-term prevention strategy is needed.

Change needs to come from the government and fleet providers to improve the working conditions and perceptions of being an HGV driver to encourage more people to enter the profession. With 52,000 vacancies in transport and storage noted throughout July to September 2021, the highest number on record, it is vital that changes are made to prevent the shortages worsening.

Whilst the government and fleet companies have implemented some changes, such as a three-month visa scheme to allow international drivers to work in the UK; these short-term fixes are not enough.

So, let’s look at some of the ways the UK government and industry providers can work together to create long-term improvements for the HGV driver industry.

Break down the stereotypes and promote inclusivity

Women are hugely underrepresented in the sector, currently making up just 1%, partly due to the stigma around HGV driving being a ‘man’s profession’ and the lack of visibility of female drivers.

To combat this, more needs to be done to cater for women and promote the job’s benefits to them.

A great way to encourage women into HGV driving could be through government subsidised training for women specifically. Currently driver training costs can be quite expensive, with some having to pay up to £5,000, so removing this barrier would be a great way to encourage inclusivity and prevent ongoing shortages.

Another solution would be to promote the profession as an inclusive career from school level. Sending female HGV drivers into schools and colleges to talk about the benefits of becoming a HGV driver would make the career option more attractive.

Furthermore, women may be put off from pursuing a career in HGV driving, particularly if they have a family, due to the perception that all drivers work long and unsociable hours. However, there are many jobs that don’t require drivers to make long-distance drives for long periods of time which is not widely known. Therefore, employers have a job to do to improve people’s understanding of the role and what is expected of them.

Improve driver facilities at stops

To encourage more people into the profession working conditions for drivers need to be improved. A lack of decent facilities at truck stops means people are leaving the job and being deterred from joining it.

Reports of poor rest facilities peaked recently due to the chaotic queueing at UK ports after Brexit. Drivers need access to appropriate rest facilities including security for themselves and their cargo, showers, and kitchen facilities. Improving service stations will increase morale amongst drivers and make it a more appealing job choice.

The Ashford International Truckstop is a good example of one of these rest stops and can provide a blueprint for the industry. The site has facilities such as relaxation areas, Wi-Fi booths, state-of-the-art gyms, fully-fitted out kitchens and restaurants serving freshly cooked meals 24/7, and this site can help to establish these services as the norm.

Invest in automation

Looking to the future, automation is regarded as the next great horizon in the HGV industry. According to IBM, 64% of truck executives say their organisation’s future success depends on digital reinvention.

With digital technologies, such as cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, automated truck capabilities are expected to be readily available by 2030. Therefore, it is worth getting ahead of the curve and looking how digital technologies could revolutionise the HGV driver market.

To ensure the industry takes a positive step forward and reduces the staff shortage problem, collaboration will be key in order to create  long-term solutions, rather than a quick plaster fix. Breaking down stereotypes about the role and improving working conditions will help to reinvent the industry. But it is also important to look towards the future of HGV driving as automation and advancements in technology could also help plug the gap and lessen the reliance on human labour in the future.

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