The widely reported HGV driver shortage has seen vacancies jump by nearly a third across the UK, compared to pre-pandemic levels. The industry’s trade body, the Road Haulage Association (RHA), estimates a shortage of 10,000 drivers across the UK, with vacancies increasing from 5,500 in February 2020 to 7,200 this August.
The government recently announced it would introduce temporary visas for 5,000 fuel tanker and food lorry drivers to work until Christmas Eve to help alleviate the issue, with the army deploying around 200 military personnel to help deliver fuel to petrol stations.
We caught up with Craig Swan, PRS divisional manager for the driving sector, who worked as a HGV driver before embarking on a career in recruitment, to get the lowdown on some of the reasons behind the shortages.
Hi Craig! Can you tell us about your background and how you got into recruitment?
Of course. I’ve worked in recruitment for the last 15 years, but was an agency driver of 7.5 tonne lorries prior to this. I wanted to work for the agency I was temping for and finally got the opportunity to cover for someone while they were on holiday. While managing payroll wasn’t my strong point, I quickly discovered I was a natural at recruitment thanks to my ability to build rapport with the clients and candidates, having had first-hand experience working as a driver. I was offered a permanent job as a consultant in July, and by December, I had more than 100 drivers out working in the field.
You’ve been with PRS for three years now; what’s that been like?
Based in the Southampton branch, my role as division manager for the driving sector sees me working closely with both clients and candidates to make sure the right skills are matched to the right jobs at the right time. It’s a high-growth sector, and we now have plans to open a branch in Poland to meet growing European demand.
However, there’s been a considerable shift in the last six months, as concerns surrounding driver shortages have increased across the UK.
What factors are at play here?
People are quick to blame one thing, but it’s actually a culmination of several factors, including:
The first, and perhaps the least reported, boils down to the new IR35 rules that mean large and medium-sized haulage agencies that turn over more than £10 million per annum or have in excess of 50 employees are now no longer able to hire drivers working as a limited company.
Considering it’s now employers, rather than drivers, who are required to determine who is an employee and who is a contractor, many are simply choosing not to work limited company contractors in an attempt to avoid the financial consequences.
It has led to a wave of drivers abandoning the industry as they no longer have the tax breaks they once did. It’s a substantial blow given that many drivers were paid poorly to begin with at around £12-15 per hour. It’s not just UK drivers that the changes have affected, with European drivers opting to leave the country as, without the tax relief, they see little reason to continue driving in the UK.
Of course, the shortages are now so extreme that pay rates are going through the roof. We’ve seen drivers requesting £40-50 per hour because they know organisations are getting more desperate to secure their skills.
Drivers must do a mandatory 35 hours of classroom training every five years to keep their Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) if they want to drive a lorry, bus or coach. This is a personal expense that drivers have to shoulder, and many don’t want to do this.
Not only is it pushing drivers out of the profession, but it is also acting as a barrier to enter the field, given that it costs between £3,000 and £4,000 to become a fully qualified HGV driver.
Despite comments from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that Brexit isn’t to blame for the current HGV lorry driver crisis and has actually helped “provide a solution” to the shortage, the reality on the ground is quite different.
Brexit has undoubtedly played a part in the shortages. In fact, the Road Haulage Association said that 20,000 European lorry drivers left their UK jobs because of Brexit. Losing EU nationals has severely impacted the flexible nature of the sector, given that they were heavily relied upon to plug gaps during busy periods of the year.
What are the repercussions?
Unfortunately, there will be casualties. The shortages mean drivers are demanding higher pay rates, and some smaller companies won’t be able to afford them. The impact is far-reaching across lots of different industries. For example, event companies that had to cancel events due to the pandemic are reducing prices in response to a tentative market as well as having to face paying high rates for drivers.
Hopefully, the government’s plan to recruit 5,000 foreign haulage drivers will help bring pay rates back to a fairer level. Of course, IR35 means that companies will need to pay drivers more than before if they want to keep them, but the current inflated pay rates should start to come down, which will significantly help ease the pressure.
Looking for drivers?
We take great pride in being one of the leading driving and logistics recruitment agencies in the UK, offering a range of permanent, contract and interim drivers at all experience levels. Click here find out more about our Driving & Logistics sector or contact Craig Swan on 07534 176756 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.