The HGV driver shortage has been a pressing issue for a few years but it reached a critical point in summer 2021. As a result, drivers and haulage subcontractors have been more in demand than ever.

A number of factors have led to this issue, including an ageing workforce, COVID, and Brexit. The ONS UK labour market overview showed that 30,000 drivers entered or re-entered the sector between July and September 2021, which is encouraging.

Here, we’ll explore the HGV driver shortage and discuss how it might evolve over the coming months.

An ageing workforce

On average, the haulage sector has one of the oldest workforces in the UK. The average age of a driver is 55, meaning many are expected to retire in the next 10 years. According to a RHA survey, drivers retiring was the biggest reason for a shortage. What’s more, Kieran Smith, Driver Require CEO, said there are 150,000 drivers close to retirement in the sector.

It’s clear that these retiring drivers need to be replaced, so looking towards younger generations is a good way to plug the long-term gap. It appears that young people are answering the call too, with a logistics firm in Bristol reporting an increase in apprentices turning their hands to driving.

These young people clearly have long-term ambitions in the sector too, with many being attracted to increasingly good wages and a long-lasting career. Haulage businesses could look internally at their own apprentices to plug their driver gap. Additionally, offering apprenticeships will give haulage businesses the opportunity to train young people in the way their business works as well as providing practical driving training.

The November 2021 HGV Driver Shortage Crisis bulletin reported that, while around 9,000 drivers under the age of 45 left the workforce in Q3, 10,000 under-45s joined. Could we see haulage transform from an ageing workforce to being driven by the younger generation?

Brexit drives away EU nationals

Brexit closely followed retirement as the second-biggest cause of the driver shortage. EU nationals made up around 13.5% of the workforce prior to Brexit, but with 79,000 leaving the UK, that’s down to 10%.

The inability of drivers to move freely between the UK and their home countries has led many to stay in their native locations, leaving a gaping hole in the UK workforce. Not only has returning to the UK become more difficult for EU drivers, but it’s also a less attractive prospect due to the lowered value of the pound.

The government announced a temporary visa scheme to encourage EU workers to join or re-join the workforce, but uptake has been limited. It’s clear that more must be done to show EU drivers that they are valued members of the UK haulage workforce. Additionally, helping workers to move to the UK more freely and permanently will also help.

Ex-drivers are attracted back to the workforce

As well as retirement and Brexit, many drivers left the workforce due to poor working conditions. It’s estimated that 53,000 drivers left the workforce in Q1 for this reason. The recent 30,000-person increase in drivers has been attributed to many of these workers returning on the promise of better pay and an improved workplace environment. Haulage firms are also luring drivers away from adjacent sectors such as public transport, with the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK reporting a shortage of bus drivers. These workers are also moving due to the allure of higher pay.

While it’s encouraging to see so many drivers returning to the workforce, the highest proportion of these was in the over-45 age category, according to Driver Require. As well as attracting ex-workers back to the sector, it’s important for hauliers to ensure they have a supply of new talent coming into the workplace.

The haulage sector has experienced a turbulent year and the driver shortage has threatened its livelihood. Retirement and Brexit are still pushing drivers out of the sector, but we’re starting to see the green shoots of recovery with tens of thousands of new drivers in recent months. We’re not out of the woods yet, and hauliers must ensure they are attracting young talent as well as experienced drivers.