UK Lorry driver

The number of HGV drivers in the UK workforce continued to fall in the final quarter of 2021 but is stabilising, according to the latest ONS statistics.

The data, published in Logistics UK’s Skills and Employment Update, revealed that the number of HGV drivers in the UK was down by 49,000 to 265,000 in Q4 of 2021, compared to Q4 2019,leaving the workforce 15.6 per cent smaller than it was before the pandemic.

This is broadly similar to Q3 2021 when there was a fall of 44,000 or 14 per cent compared with Q3 2019. It means that the number appears to have stabilised from the fall of 72,000 seen in Q2 2021.

Over the same period, demand for logistics has soared. Some 28 per cent of all retail sales took place online in Q4 2021, up from 19 per cent in Q4 2019, according to the ONS.

When it comes to EU drivers in the UK, over 10 per cent have left the industry compared to Q4 2019, which is a fall of 4,000 drivers. However, the number of EU drivers working in Britain appears to have stabilised around the 33,000 mark.There are 23.2 per cent fewer EU driversthan in Q4 2016, a few months after the Brexit referendum, when they numbered 43,000.

With numbers of driving tests increasing as a result of greater capacity provided by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), Logistics UK concluded that the number of HGV drivers in Britain appears to be stabilising.

Elizabeth de Jong, director of policy at Logistics UK, commented: “The new ONS data shows that attracting new entrants to the profession, and ensuring sufficient tests are available, are key to the resilience of the logistics sector.

“The long waiting list to take a vocational HGV test in Great Britain has been a key contributor to the driver shortage crisis; the data in the report shows that the DVSA is making progress in catching up on the testing backlog which grew out of the restrictions under the Covid-19 pandemic.”

According to figures from the DVSA, 27,144 HGV vocational tests were undertaken in Q4 2021, representing a 53.5 per cent increase compared with Q4 2019.Meanwhile, pay has increased, with driver pay surging nearly 12 per cent in the 12 months to January.

However, it appears that higher pay and more testing has not translated into more HGV drivers in the profession in Q4 2021. The relatively small difference in the annual falls in HGV drivers in Q3 and Q4 2021 may indicate better worker retention, but Logistics UK said it was too early to tell.

In the UK, HGV drivers have a significantly older age profile than the general population, with an average age of 51 years. Logistics UK said the dearth of younger people training to become HGV drivers is a concern.

There are some signs that recruitment initiatives to attract younger drivers are working for those switching careers (age 30-34) rather than younger career starters (age 25-29). In Q4 2021, the proportion of HGV drivers under the age of 45 was 37 per cent, up from 33.6 per cent in Q4 2019.

There was a drop in those aged 50-54, and this is following general employment trends – the ONS reported that nearly 400,000 people most over the age of 50 ‘have disengaged from the world of work altogether,’ partly due to long-term illness.

The UK is facing an unprecedented driver shortage, characterised by chronic and acute phases. Logistics UK said the chronic shortage stems from the recession of 2008, which led to drivers leaving the industry and many did not return when the economy began to recover. The current acute phase is due to the economic shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic coupled with the post- Brexit reduction in the number of EU workers in the UK.

Click here to view Logistics UK’s fullSkills and Employment Update.