If you were asked to picture a typical UK lorry driver, images of a, middle-aged man chomping on a Yorkie bar, guzzling a can of Tizer and reading the red top tabloids would no doubt spring to mind.
It is unlikely that any of you would picture that driver being young and even less likely that any of you would imagine them to be a woman.
Sadly, these stereotypes reflect the current reality. Around 60 per cent of HGV drivers in the UK are aged over 45 yet, astoundingly, only 2 per cent are aged between 16 and 24 and less than 1 per cent are female. It is perhaps therefore unsurprising that, in an industry dominated by older male drivers, the UK is facing an unprecedented shortage of qualified and experienced professional drivers.
Solving this problem in the long term means attracting more young people and more people from the underrepresented sectors of society (such as women) to the industry. But how bad is the shortage and why are young people and women, in particular, currently choosing not to enter the sector?
It is estimated that the UK is currently 60,000 HGV drivers short and that, by 2020, the industry will need an extra 150,000 HGV drivers to keep the wheels, literally, turning. However, the number of individuals taking and passing their HGV test has steadily fallen since 2008 and it is estimated that only 17,000 drivers are currently entering the industry annually (25 per cent lower than in 2008).
The industry also loses around 35,000 drivers every year due to retirement or failure to pass periodic medical tests (and this does not include those that have their entitlements revoked or those that leave the sector for other job opportunities and to pursue different careers).
The combined impact of an ageing driver population and the lack of new entrants to replace those who leave means the sector now faces a chronic skills shortage, which creates a very real and fundamental problem for operators and the economy.
Concerns were exacerbated in September 2014 with the introduction of the Driver CPC. This acted as a trigger for many drivers to retire early or quit and saw experienced drivers leave the industry en masse rather than complete the 35 hours of periodic training required to obtain the qualification. Statistics reveal that a shocking 20,000 drivers have left the industry since September 2014.
The shortage is also driving down quality. One client recently confirmed that due to the driver shortage, the quality of drivers has definitely decreased. Experienced drivers are commanding higher wages that smaller and medium sized operators simply cannot afford.
Barriers to entry
One of the most fundamental problems that the industry has to overcome if it is to attract more people to the sector is its image. There is a lack of visibility and appeal to wider society. People, particularly younger people and women, simply do not know that commercial road transport exists as a viable career option and, sadly, too few younger people and women are therefore choosing professional driving as a career.
Furthermore the recruitment practices favoured by many small operators, such as word-of-mouth, means recruitment of non-typical drivers (such as younger people and women) is further limited.
Historically, becoming a professional driver was often viewed as a job of last resort for those without specialist skills and public perception still seems to be that there are far more attractive industries for younger people and women to enter. Despite almost one million young people not being in employment, education or training, those aged between 16 and 24 are simply not attracted to the sector and shun it as a potential career option.
Women, in particular, seem to be deterred by the standard and security of facilities available to drivers, the non-standard working patterns and unsociable hours associated with the role, which are not perceived to be conducive to family life and the job itself is, admittedly, not a glamorous one!
Then there is the cost of acquiring a vocational licence (somewhere between £3,000 and £5,000 – even if they pass first time). This acts as a barrier to many potential new entrants to the sector.
It is a lot of money to lay your hands on and there are currently no student loans or public funding available for licence acquisition. Even where potential new entrants are able to find the money to fund their training, they face delays in medical assessments from the DVLA and delays in test bookings from DVSA.
Also, they then need to find an operator willing to take them on as a driver with no experience!
Insurance presents a further hurdle, as many companies insist that drivers are at least 25 years old and have at least two years’ driving experience.
Breaking down the barriers
It is clear there is an urgent need for the sector to engage with the currently under-represented areas of society to improve public perception of the industry and quash preconceived notions to broaden the appeal of driving and convince prospective employees that commercial road transport can provide a viable and rewarding career.
If you look around, almost everything you can see from the clothes you wear to the food you eat will have been delivered by a lorry for at least part of its distribution journey. Commercial road transport is the life blood of the UK economy with 80 per cent of goods being moved by road, yet there is a general lack of awareness of the road transport sector and a lack of recognition of the vital role that it plays in supporting the UK economy. This needs to change.
Despite it being an industry dominated by older male drivers, those younger people and women who do work in the sector report only positive experiences. Younger people and women therefore currently provide a largely untapped resource. The road transport sector is a dynamic sector but some of the negative preconceptions need to be challenged.
Please contact 01254 828300 if you need any advice for your business.