Despite the crucial role they play in keeping the country moving, the haulage industry often gets overlooked. Haulage has had to balance the pandemic with uncertainties from trade routes and new Brexit regulations. All while maintaining the UK's food supplies, medicines, PPE and vaccines.
The industry deserves praise for its vital role in supporting national and international infrastructure. But many drivers feel unappreciated - both by the public and by their industry.
Complaints about low pay, safety risks and dealing with border delays have contributed to a significant driver shortage. The pre-pandemic deficit was around 50,000-60,000 drivers in the UK. But with the combination of COVID-19 and Brexit occurring concurrently - including border delays and losing 12 months of new driver testing - the shortage has now surpassed 100,000 drivers.
The pressure and conditions faced by drivers are starting to receive national attention, as reports suggest some supermarkets are experiencing food shortages. With non-essential businesses re-opening and the economy beginning to recover, the demand for deliveries will continue to increase.
The failure to find sustainable solutions to fix the driver shortage is a frustration for drivers, particularly in response to the stop-gap measures introduced by the government. Despite industry requests, the UK government will not allow EU driver recruitment because HGV driving does not meet the current migrant worker criteria.
Instead, there has been a temporary relaxation on drivers' hours, which means drivers are working longer - despite these limits being in place to ensure drivers get enough rest to function efficiently on the road. Rather than supporting existing drivers, measures like this apply more pressure to work beyond what is considered safe. It demonstrates a lack of appreciation for the individuals involved, but it may increase the number of people leaving the profession and deter newcomers.
Even if contemporary challenges are solved, the future of haulage is already beginning to focus on the development and implementation of automation to increase safety and fuel efficiency. Automation may threaten the current HGV driving job as the scope of their role changes. Self-driving technology could be another deterrent for new drivers as the long-term future of positions could be brought into question.
Short-term measures have failed to make significant improvements to working conditions. But the UK government have announced plans to help secure the long-term future of the industry. The proposition could have a positive impact on haulage.
In July 2021, a package of measures to help tackle the HGV driver shortage was announced, designed to simplify training and encourage the retention of existing drivers. Improving working conditions for drivers is the catalyst for change.
These measures include working alongside the industry to increase lorry parking spaces and identify more ways to improve truck park standards. While it is too early to say how successful these plans will be, a collaboration between the government and the haulage industry to tackle the driver shortage is a positive step.
In an industry where more than half (50.4%) of UK truckers say they do not feel like they are getting any recognition for their hard work dealing with short-term challenges. One of the best ways to make the industry more attractive for current and new drivers is to think about ways to make drivers feel more appreciated. These include:
“While the industry is in a difficult position, supporting the current drivers and improving conditions to encourage recruitment are both vital steps in strengthening the industry’s future and showing appreciation to those who are working hard to keep the UK moving.” Mark Garner, Managing Director, SNAP.