Increased demand for online deliveries and a lack of new drivers joining the industry has created a tipping point, with not enough qualified drivers available to cope with current haulage demands, according to new research from SNAP, which operates a digital haulage marketplace.

The research revealed that the increase in demand for drivers is partly due to the rise in online shopping and food deliveries, with data showing that in 2023 so far, there have been 39.2 million meal deliveries and 24.2 million grocery deliveries in the UK, with these figures expected to grow to 50.6 million and 31.2 million respectively by 2027.

Despite the need for more drivers, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), shows that there were 6,000 less delivery and courier drivers in the UK from April 2022 to March 2023 versus the same period the year before.

At the same time vacancies in the transport, logistics, and warehouse sector are on the rise, the research noted. Despite being lower than the all-time high of 2021, the number of jobs available is increasing, with data showing 150 vacancies at the end of May, 166 at the end of June, and 169 at the end of August.

Pointing to research which shows that over half (55%) of drivers are aged between 50-64, Myra McPartlin, SNAP commercial head, said: “There has long been the challenge of retaining HGV drivers in the UK, and when you combine this with the challenges faced by Brexit and an increase in demand for delivery services since the pandemic, the industry naturally becomes unsustainable. The number of new drivers decreasing and those leaving the industry means that we are at a tipping point.”

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Richard Owen-Hughes, Driver Hire group marketing director, added: “As the UK emerged from the pandemic, a surge in online retailing, complemented by overall economic growth, spurred the demand for HGV drivers. The HGV industry is the unsung hero of the UK economy, with road freight responsible for transporting 98% of food and agricultural products.

“However, the industry faces an impending challenge as the majority of drivers are approaching retirement. The average age of professional HGV drivers in the UK is 55, emphasising the urgency to attract fresh young talent, and diversity too, with female drivers making up just 2% of UK drivers.

“One good initiative in recent years has been the Government’s Skills Bootcamp programme. It is available to current holders of a Category B (car) license aged 19 or over. This is the kind of initiative we welcome, making a career as a professional HGV driver more accessible than ever.”

McPartlin welcomed the government’s launch of a review into HGV parking and facilities, but said that as well as ensuring there are adequate spaces for parking, the safety of drivers also needs to be considered.

She said: “This is a big concern for drivers in the UK and is cited as a top reason for hesitance in joining the industry. Keeping drivers safe will not only put their minds at ease, but also help towards employee retention.”