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Employment levels in transport and storage will be down by 15% by the end of the year and won’t fully recover until mid-2026, according to projections by Driver Require.

The recruitment firm’s analysis into the impact of COVID-19 suggests that employment growth rates in the sector face a bleaker than average outcome, with a 35% reduction, compared to an assumed 25% drop in all sectors during the lockdown.

The same period is likely to see HGV driver employment plummet by 50%.

It has previously forecast that GDP may not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025.

However, Driver Require added that it would be the length and scale of the recovery in haulage that will reshape the sector over the coming years.

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Relying on data derived from the recession in 2008, Kieran Smith, CEO of Driver Require, said: “We expect recovery of HGV employment numbers to lag three to six months behind the overall transport and storage sector.

“HGV employment will continue to rise to around 10% below pre-crisis levels by mid-2021 - equating to around 30,000 driver positions - as manufacturing and construction activity ramps up, then it levels off to rise gradually to achieve pre-crisis levels by the end of 2026.”

Smith said that initially, agency workers will be at a premium but that volume agency contracts will return in-house over time.

He also predicted that supply chains will be restructured to manage risk and just-in-time will become ‘just-in-case’, with strategic reserves built up and storage outsourced to third parties to protect against any future disruption.

Driver Require’s analysis added: “We expect more home working, with fewer cars on the roads, while increased online purchasing will lead to larger demand for home delivery services, both van multi-drop and HGV trunking.

“We have felt the positive impact of quieter roads and reduced carbon emissions. This, together with a government keen to launch large infrastructure projects to revitalise the economy, may lead to an acceleration of the decarbonisation of the UK road haulage sector.”