Truck driver shortages: The whys and wherefores

Date Added: 5 August 2021

A recent International Road Transport Union survey suggests that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25 percent year-on-year across its 23 member countries, and the issue is certainly being felt by UK businesses and the logistics companies that manage their supply chains.

Behind the crisis is a perfect storm of factors including Brexit, Covid-19 and compounding economic factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, and have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to production lines and retail shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.

As a major provider of international overland trailer services and domestic UK distribution operations, Davies Turner like many others hope that steps will urgently be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole.

Otherwise, the service interruptions that are prevalent at present due to lack of driver availability, which means that volumes are not being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times, will only continue.

The driver shortage is all about supply. Industry reports indicate that the number of EU drivers that is available has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, which has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. Negative changes to foreign exchange rates has made the UK a less desirable work place and recent changes to IR35 tax rules has further disincentivised individuals from following a truck driving career. The lack of HGV driver tests over the last year due to the pandemic has also led to less new drivers being qualified to enter the workforce - some saying by as many as 6,000-7,000 new drivers in last 12 months.

We note that the issue is such a problem that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) recently wrote to the government about the driver shortage for trucks, sharing the the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.

Many are asking what can be done? Since it is unlikely that businesses can completely reorganise their supply chain network, it is hoped that the government will consider providing the industry with financial aid, supported with legislative change, whereby foreign drivers could be placed on the shortage occupations list, for example.

Longer term, policy must be formulated to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. After all, sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is around 50, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. If we don’t take steps to increase the volume of younger drivers entering the industry, there will be no change in the skills shortages.

It is becoming perfectly apparent that the oft-reported shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains. With truck drivers finally gaining the recognition that they deserve for the essential role they play in keeping the nation moving we need to see those in government provide the support the sector needs, and work together with the industry to find solutions if we are to be able to improve the level of service and not see ongoing turbulence.

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