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The HGV Driver Shortage: HGV Drivers Speak Out

From General jobs news, For employers, For job seekers category

The HGV Driver shortage from the HGV Drivers’ point of view.

With an increased focus on the national HGV Driver Shortage brought on by empty shelves, increased costs of products and most recently a fuel shortage causing petrol stations to close and large queues at any that are open, the Department for Transport sent out letters to all qualified drivers urging those that are not working to once again get behind the wheel.

However, anecdotally, the uptake has been minimal, and the letter, signed by Baroness Vere of Norbiton, the Minister for roads, buses and places, became a focus of mockery amongst driver networks. Many promises made in the letter have, anecdotally, been untrue, including the accessibility of more flexible working arrangements and training packages. Although we have seen this happen, it is not fully and easily accessible across the industry.

“I could fit in two days a week with my current commitments.

I find that unless you can do full time no one’s interested.”

The increase in wages alluded to in the letter has been seen across the industry, but this has not achieved the desired response alone and I was keen to find out why.

Afterall, if we can’t convince drivers to work in their own country, how sure are we that we can attract enough European drivers to cover the shortfall through short term visas?

I reached out to a large network of professional drivers (nearly 50,000 HGV Drivers) and asked those that are no longer driving professionally why that is and what would have to change for them to act on the request in the Department for Transport letter.

This report does not communicate the views of myself, nor does it represent J&J Recruitment Solutions’ opinion. That is not the aim of this article. It represents those that were comfortable speaking with me about why they are no longer driving combined with others that are intending to leave the profession very soon. It is about giving them a voice and opening the HGV Driver shortage discussion further.

Below are some of the top reasons given through social media engagement and direct conversation by qualified HGV Drivers.

Costs involved in order to work

For HGV Drivers, there are many costs involved in order to get in to work and also in order to stay in work. This was one of the leading reasons given by drivers for not returning to the industry and combined they create a large barrier to anyone that did consider returning.

1. The CPC

Drivers are required to complete a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) every 5 years. This requires 35 hours of training and the costs involved are met by the driver. Furthermore, the time is usually taken from a driver’s own time rather than working time.

“I have had HGV licence for 23 years and work in motor trade, never needed a CPC because never carried a load or passengers, took wagons on road tests and to Mot station for years, not interested in driving primarily because I can’t be [bothered] doing 35 hours of CPC at my age, get rid of that and I’m tempted, what haulage company doesn’t want a driver with 40 years mechanic experience??”

The argument was made that in most vocations that require regular compliance training or skill-based training in order for someone to complete their duties, the employer meets the costs and also allows for the training to be done during working hours. Especially as failure to complete this training can result in a £1000 fine and also lead to losing your job as you would be unable to drive the lorries.

“I think ALL drivers including train and plant ones should have a yearly medical and it should be free of charge.

If I wanted to drive again, I also need the yearly medical and a CPC”

For HGV drivers that have been away from it for a while, this is a big barrier if they did want to get back in to driving as an occupation. They would need to take time away from their present employment and then pay hundreds of pounds to complete the training and receive a new CPC card. As mentioned in the above quote, they would also need to fund and complete a medical.

Should employers meet these repeat training costs once a trained driver has started working for them? Should employers allow for this training to be done during working hours? A small amount do but industry standard appears to be the opposite, leaving drivers with regular training expenses through fear of otherwise leaving their jobs.

2. Renewal of Licences and Digital Tacho

Just like any other drivers’ licence, HGV Drivers’ licences and digital tacho cards expire and require renewal. This is much cheaper and less frequent than the CPC, however, when added to other costs they soon add up.

“Send my licence back, so I can prove I have one to employers”

Some drivers are finding that the time taken to renew their licence is taking too long, leaving them unable to work. Although licences can be checked online through a DVLA service, for those renewing after a while out of the industry wanting to return the time taken to process the renewal is holding them back. We currently have a driver on hold for this exact reason as his licence has not been processed whilst the DVLA are working through a backlog caused by the pandemic.

3. Truck Stops and Lorry Parks

“I’m giving up driving soon.

Companies should pay for training, medicals, renewal of dcpc and license…

The government should also be expanding truck parks and service areas and capping how much they charge… been a tramper for nearly 25 years and gave it up last year..”

When working on longer routes, drivers may often be required to spend the night out. In order to do so, they will need to find somewhere appropriate and safe to park their lorry, find somewhere to eat, use the toilet, wash and sleep. Truck stops are a popular choice, and an essential in many areas that restrict where a lorry can be driven or parked up.

An employer would usually give “night out money”, a nominal amount of money to go towards costs of the driver staying out, but not technical working during that time. This amount, argue HGV Drivers, does not cover the costs of parking, let alone food or access to somewhere to wash.

Conditions are often basic too. Drivers will be required to sleep in their cab and have access to portable toilets and a burger van at best.

HGV drivers argued that when other members of staff go away for work, to cover at another depot or to make a business meeting for example, the full costs of travel, accommodation and dinner are usually covered up front or expensed, sometimes even with a bar tab.

Should employers fully cover the costs involved to park the company vehicle and offer the drivers better conditions when staying away from home for the night?

One suggestion made by a driver is that the government could cap the costs of Truck Stops / Lorry Parks. Could the government also work with the owners of these truck stops in order to improve the conditions offered to those that use them?

Working Conditions

The working conditions offered to HGV Drivers have left many with no desire to return to the industry. This also follows on nicely to the mention of truck stops above.

For many older, semi-retired HGV Drivers, working conditions was the top reason for not responding to the Department for Transport’s letter.

“I’m 66 years old and won’t be going back as I don’t think I could handle it anymore.”

4. Access to facilities

Even when not staying overnight at truck stops, access to facilities when working out on the road is essential. I can certainly relate to being on a long drive, desperate for the toilet or somewhere clean to rest, only to be horribly disappointed by the standards at a roadside service station.

Should we build on our facilities with professional drivers in mind? Laybys alone cannot provide suitable rest places for drivers and motorway services are often oversubscribed and too busy to keep up standards, even for normal road users traveling for leisure.

If you had a professional driver deliver something to your workplace whilst on their route, would you allow them use of your facilities?

5. Unfairly treated at work

“Companies pay for their office staff to do training just drivers are disrespected… some companies have company Xmas parties paid for but they don’t invite their drivers”

Multiple drivers reported lacking the feeling of belonging in their wider team, feeling unwelcome or being treated differently. It is difficult to build a relationship with a team when you spend the best part of your day on your own on the road, but some drivers feel almost forgotten about entirely. Examples include office or depot Christmas parties that are paid for by the employer where drivers were not invited, and not being included on company incentives and benefits. Are they out of site and out of mind?

Employee engagement would certainly benefit here. At J&J Recruitment Solutions, we keep in regular contact with all our HGV drivers and make sure that we build a relationship with them. This, we hope, is a great step in reducing this feeling of isolation.

Could companies and HR departments do more to ensure that their Drivers feel valued?

6. Lack of investment from Employers

Some skills, such as operating a forklift truck or overhead crane, also require licences and/or training. Non-skilled staff are often given opportunity to receive this as an investment in their career from their employers.

Whilst I have not had a HGV driver claim that an employer should pay for a licence, some have argued that employers could invest time and money in upgrading the skills of the drivers that they have, in return for increased loyalty.

“For me [to return, I’d want] a company to take me from current class 2 to class 1 in return for loyalty and hard work from me.”

Examples include upgrading an HGV Class 2 Driver to a Class 1 licence, allowing them to driver larger lorries for the company, or taking someone through an ADR licence which would allow them to transport different types of hazardous loads such as flammable petrol or diesel.

Some companies do this well and we are pleased to have some of these as clients. However, this does not happen across the industry, with the expectation that if a driver wants to progress, they should do it in their own time at their own expense.

Investing in drivers in this way will not only progress their career within the business, but would also help a member of staff feel valued and invested in. Perhaps, given the recent shortage in fuel supply, investing in our drivers to be able to drive tankers could save us queuing for fuel at our local petrol station again in the near future.

7. Work-life balance

Across several industries, the pandemic has triggered a movement to improve work-life balance, particularly for those that experienced the benefits of working from home or more flexible working. I have seen working from home and flexible working become a large focus of discussion across several professional and commercial sectors.

“[Since changing career] I’m home every night to see the family. No stress no stupidly early starts and less responsibility. Don’t think I would ever go back driving unless I was desperate for a job.”

“I’m glad I did my licences and had a go for 7 years but I’m much happier now than when I was driving for a living.”

Whilst working from home would defeat the object of a driver’s role, work-life balance is becoming more of a focus here too. Long routes require long shifts, as does waiting for a load to be unloaded at the end of it. In many cases, long working hours is a necessity to make the logistical operation run. This is a fact that is not denied by the drivers that reached out to me but may do argue that work-life balance could be improved in other ways instead.

  1. Happy to work longer shifts but working a 4 day week (this would still equal full time hours when compared to other 5 day full-time roles)
  2. Limiting working hours below the legal limit for driving hours. Tracked by a digital tacho, a driver is limited to 56 hours a week driving, or 90 hours in a fortnight. Many companies want to make full use of this but drivers are pushing back and arguing that a more standard 40 hour working week would allow for a much better work-life balance.
  3. Offering part time hours (perfect for semi-retired drivers that might be convinced to return to the industry, especially considering the aging HGV Driver workforce)
  4. Planning for earlier finishes – many drivers have moved to another industry that was more family friendly. One driver said that being able to spend their evenings and weekends with their children since leaving HGV driving as a vocation made them the happiest they’ve been in their working life.

“A job and a life – not much to ask, is it?”

8. Pay Rates and Benefits

Pay rates have been increasing hugely since companies had to start outbidding each other in order to ensure they had their required workforce. This is happening across the board due to a general labour shortage combined with a record number of available vacancies, but it is happening to an entire other level with HGV Drivers.

It’s a result of supply and demand, driving companies to outbid each other for the staff that they need.

Where some companies were paying around £11.50 per hour for a class 2 driver, wages have increased to between £15.00 and £18.00 per hour – an increase of up to 64%. However, these increases are predicted to be temporary, with some companies only offering these wages to temporary or agency staff. Understandably, companies that were not able to increase their offering are struggling, and those that can are passing the costs on to consumers.

Despite this, wages were mentioned quite a lot in my discussions with HGV drivers that are no longer driving professionally. Some have found less demanding work that pays similar or higher wages. Others valued other benefits such as private healthcare and argued that these made other careers much more attractive.

“…a digger driver can earn more, with no qualifications.”

Wages for HGV drivers had stagnated for some time despite the larger increases to National Minimum Wage moving up behind it. Although some drivers admittedly made outlandish claims as to what they should be paid per hour, with some exceeding that of doctors, most have been reasonable suggestions. One suggestion was to set a minimum wage for HGV drivers that increases in line with National Minimum wage each year in order to protect their real-world earnings as the costs of living increase.

Wages should be looked at carefully in order to balance costs whilst also incentivising the next generation to take up what can be a challenging vocation. This should also reflect the ongoing costs that an HGV driver faces in order to stay in the profession.

My argument is that by addressing the other concerns raised by drivers above, inflated wages would not necessarily be required. Although an increase is being demanded, and is to a degree warranted, a multi-pronged approach should be taken to increase the attractiveness of HGV Driving as a career.

We must, as an industry, address the concerns raised above if we are to persuade drivers to return and incentivise the next generation to take up the profession. Employers should take the lead on this to address their driver’s job satisfaction and employee engagement, but the wider infrastructure including accessible, suitable and affordable facilities to increase working conditions should be discussed at a wider level. The alternative is a continued HGV Driver shortage leading to more product shortages, further disruption, and increased costs for many products you rely on buying regularly.

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