The Road Haulage Association (RHA) has warned of “serious problems at Christmas” due to the UK’s driver shortage, despite concerted recruitment efforts. According to RHA estimates, around 2,000 drivers are leaving the industry every week, often due to retirement, but only about 1,000 new recruits are joining the workforce in that same timeframe.
The driver shortage is impacting on the economy with some supermarkets having gaps in their offerings due to goods not arriving at their stores. Fresh fruit, vegetables and milk are going to waste due to cancelled or delayed deliveries, according to Tom Bradshaw, vice president of the National Farmers’ Union.
In a bid to boost driver numbers, Pertemps Driving Academy is offering free LGV training courses worth £5k to encourage new people into the sector. In exchange for the free training, recruits are required to work with Pertemps for at least two years, and could be the start of a long career in logistics.
Tesco and John Lewis are amongst some high profile businesses offering golden hellos ranging from £1k to £5k to encourage drivers to work for them.
Dixons Carphone began advertising a sign-on bonus of £1,500 to new drivers and a £1,500 retention bonus to existing ones. Staff elsewhere in the business are being encouraged to consider retraining as drivers while those who refer a friend to fill a vacancy can claim a £1k pay-out.
However even if enough people did begin training for a licence, it is unlikely this new cohort of workers would be on the road before the end of the year. It typically takes around 12 weeks to obtain a C1 driving licence, which allows holders to drive rigid vehicles of up to 7.5 tonnes, but the backlog that has built up during the pandemic means the wait is currently closer to 16 weeks.
The Government has announced measures intended to alleviate the crisis, such as allowing drivers to take one test to drive both an articulated and rigid lorry to increase the availability of test slots, and temporarily relaxing drivers’ hours rules – a move criticised on safety grounds by drivers and haulage firms alike.
Unfortunately it seems that the drivers shortage is here to stay. Despite this, the Department of Transport reiterated “We have no plans to introduce a short-term visa for HGV drivers. Employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.”