With HGV driver training courses costing around £3,500 and the absence of a fully fledged HGV driver apprenticeship, the industry’s driver shortage looks set to continue. So is it time to look to alternatives? 

One solution recently mooted by Robert Wilcox, MD of haulier Massey Wilcox Transport (main image), could be the introduction of a government-backed loan scheme for trainee HGV drivers, which would operate in the same way as the student loan system.

Under the scheme, applicants accepted on an HGV driver training course would be eligible to apply for a government-backed training loan to cover the cost.

Once employed, newly qualified drivers would repay the loan plus interest, through automatic payments taken from their monthly wages over a period of years to ensure the level of repayments are manageable.

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While there are private firms offering loans to help pay for HGV licence training fees, interest on these loans can be as high as 18.5% APR. Compare that to the current interest rates on student loans which are no more than 3% APR.

Wilcox argues that the loan scheme would deliver drivers into the sector much more rapidly than the year-long commercial vehicle driver apprenticeships on offer, since most HGV driver training courses are completed in about six weeks.

“We don’t need apprentices, we need drivers and we need them now,” he told MT. “The government is happy to hand out £9,000 a year for university students and yet it would only take one loan of £3,500 to enable a young person to become an HGV driver in a matter of months, turning them into fully employed drivers earning £650 a week and paying national insurance and tax,” he added.

Jonathan Jempson, MD of John Jempson and Sons, believes a loan system could improve driver retention. “This would avoid the problem of losing drivers you’ve paid to train and address the skills shortage,” he said.


He also believes it would free hauliers from the bureaucracy required to apply for apprenticeship funding, which his family firm found so labyrinthine that it no longer seeks to find drivers through this route.

Paul Johnson, MD of Transervice Group, said the transport company, which also runs Transervice Training, is regularly approached by young people keen to train as HGV drivers. “But many of them can’t access that sort of money and that is a tragedy. Here is an industry crying out for drivers and yet there is this financial barrier to entry.”

RHA policy director Duncan Buchanan is another advocate of a training loan for HGV drivers.

“As a nation, we give very generous loans to university students so why not also provide vocational loans for trainee HGV drivers, the cost of which, in comparison, is a modest amount?,” he asked.

Nor is this a new idea. Five years ago the FTA ran a campaign for a similar scheme, which failed to gain any government support.

But times have changed. With Brexit looming and a weakened pound forcing many eastern European drivers out of the market, could this be something the Treasury would consider?

FTA head of skills Sally Gilson has her doubts. She pointed to research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that estimates around 70% of university students will never fully pay off their loans.

“The problem is that the current system is costing the government a fortune. Many of the loans will never be repaid. I don’t think the appetite is there to create another group of loans that could result in further losses,” she said.

Certainly the Department of Education, which oversees vocational training funding, has ruled out any system of loans for HGV trainee drivers.

A spokeswoman told motortransport.co.uk: “HGV drivers require a licence to practice, which is a commercial course, and is not a qualification eligible for loans funding.”

David Coombes

Skills for Logistics MD David Coombes, a member of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, the body that approves apprenticeships, believes the DoE only has eyes for the Trailblazer apprenticeships.

He said: “It’s the only game in town, the government has put everything behind this.” And for good reason, he added. “It’s not just about firing someone through a six-week course and sending them out on the road.

"This is a professional qualification that aims to raise industry standards and give apprentices not just a licence, but a complete understanding of the business and put them on a proper career path. That is what employers and the economy need.”

Applications fall

But is this enough to tackle the driver shortage? Government figures reveal that applications for driving goods vehicles apprenticeships fell by 31% last year and that only 10% of the £130m of levy so far paid by the logistics industry has been claimed back to fund apprenticeships.

Nor is this situation helped by the absence of any training for a C+E licence in the Large Goods Vehicle apprenticeship, although, after concerted industry lobbying, it is expected to be included sometime this year.

Buchanan said: “The levy is taking a lot of money from logistics companies – and a lot of that money is being sucked out of the system into a bureaucracy more interested in driving the educational system than actually training people in the skills this industry needs. Maybe it is time to think more creatively.

"We would happily support a government-backed loan scheme.”