Renewed efforts seen by the government this week to address the worsening HGV driver shortage are indeed commendable. The road haulage sector, already plagued by issues before the pandemic, now has to contend with a fuel crisis that has no end in sight plus a growing ‘silver exodus’ of retirees.

According to Statista, this exodus is set to accelerate, with 45% of the UK’s HGV drivers expected to reach retirement age in the next five to 10 years.

These figures are reflected in a recent survey by Zeus Labs involving 40 UK haulage firms, which revealed that 56.6% saw finding drivers as a core reason for delaying growth. Interestingly, 76.6% of them also selected finding new work as the main challenge.

There is no denying that urgent action is needed towards attracting and retaining the next generation of lorry and HGV drivers, and the new Transport Bill is a welcome first step. But any proposal to veer away from EU licence regulations and open the industry to newly qualified drivers needs a carefully considered approach.

Perhaps most importantly, any efforts to entice new recruits should focus on fixing the skills gap. Would-be drivers need improved access to training programmes to obtain critical sector-specific skills safely and in good time.

We also believe it is up to the government to encourage movement by incentivising small and medium-sized firms on taking on newly qualified drivers and improving the process by which it takes to obtain a licence. Unless we take action to solve this problem, we stand to lose more than 380,000 drivers over the next five years.

Furthermore, supporting smaller owner-operator fleets, which make up 70% of the registered HGV firms in Britain, directly ensures a more resilient and stable nationwide logistics network. This is pivotal if we are to see economic growth.

Zeus Labs is a prime example of this new approach that directly supports small to mid-sized haulage firms with its next-generation digital platform. The platform charges no fees to hauliers, it finds new work for them and pays firms within three days, instead of 60 to 90 days. This directly benefits the smaller hauliers, who can manage fuel costs better and take more time to actually invest in training new drivers and growing their fleets. This represents a best of breed approach unlike anything in the market today.

However, when it comes to incentivising, educating, funding and helping ensure fast training of new drivers, we cannot help directly. With the road haulage industry at such an important crossroads, we hope that any new legislation takes heed of the bigger picture and has the industry’s long-term interests at heart.

Alistair Lindsay, chief operating officer, Zeus Labs and former head of logistics, Tesco