James Clifford

The government has made strides in addressing the HGV driver shortage over the past year, and the recent increase in testing capacity is the latest positive example. Yet the upcoming Christmas period will, like most years, put pressure on testing and training capacity. It should remind the government and industry that, if the UK is to effectively address its chronic shortage of drivers, we need to be in it for the long haul.

The government has reported a big increase in lorry driving tests. Official statistics revealed that 74% more lorry tests were carried out between January and March 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels.

This is a hugely positive step, and comes in response to various measures that the government has introduced over the past year.

These include changes to simplify the testing process such as allowing the off-road part of the lorry test to be carried out by non-DVSA assessors. The government also made it easier for drivers to take one test to drive both a rigid and articulated lorry and removed the need for drivers to do a separate car and trailer test. The government has also recruited more vocational driving examiners to help make more tests available in the areas of where demand is highest.

These steps form part of the government’s 33 actions taken to deal with the HGV driver shortage and protect the supply chain. This also includes making 11,000 funded HGV driver training places available through Skills Bootcamps.

Together, these steps should be applauded.

However, demand for HGV drivers is, to some extent, seasonal. The run-up to Christmas is often a crunch point when it comes to training and testing capacity and this year will be no different.

With the coming months expected to ramp up pressure once again on the industry’s limited resources, it’s an important reminder that we have some way to go in terms of tackling the chronic shortage of drivers. Longer term, there are three key issues that we believe still need addressing.

First, recruitment of new candidates. The Skills Bootcamps have addressed the cost of training, one of the biggest barriers to entry into the industry. But it’s also important that we’re able to recruit from a more diverse pool of candidates. Current driver statistics highlight this issue. Just four per cent are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Only one per cent are women. The average driver is now 51 years old. Greater diversity is therefore key to addressing the longer term challenge.

Retention is also important. Pay and conditions have to some extent been addressed, but career development is an important part of this puzzle. We believe that amending the Driver CPC would make a notable difference. Instead of requiring drivers to undertake an arbitrary 35 hours of training, DCPC courses could range from advanced driving skills, health and safety, hazardous loads and more. Such courses should encourage incremental development that allows drivers to take more responsibility, command a higher salary and feel they are developing in their career.

Finally, the existing training landscape can be confusing and challenging to navigate for trainees, employees, and employers. There are numerous routes into the broader transport sector, and HGV driving is no different. But by better structuring and streamlining HGV driving careers, there will be clearer pathways about how to get into the industry and how drivers can develop.

The measures the government has taken so far are working well. But now is not the time for complacency. Government and industry must continue to work together to plug the chronic shortage of drivers once and for all.

James Clifford, CEO of training specialist HGVC, which leads the Driver Academy Group