MPs on the Transport Committee warn that current thinking is not sufficiently targeted or wide-reaching to deliver drivers fast enough to address the shortage, deal with future growth, or cope with the ageing profile of drivers likely to retire in the next ten years.
Haulage associations estimate a current shortfall of 45,000–60,000 drivers, with another 40,000 due to leave the industry by 2017.
Chair of the Transport Committee, Louise Ellman, said: "This is not a new challenge. The road haulage sector has been short of skilled drivers for the last ten years.
“The familiar profile of the professional driver – over 45, white and male – will need to adapt. Industry and Government need to get their heads together and come up with a plan which focusses on recruitment and retention.
“After years of under-investment in the sector, let's encourage skilled drivers back into their cabs by improving the image of the profession, revisiting pay and conditions and providing proper and secure facilities at depots and on the roadside.
“Who are the drivers of the future? Let's look to female drivers, young drivers and BAME drivers, currently under-represented in the sector. Government and industry should review apprenticeships, reduce training costs and insurance, and demonstrate clear career progression.
“If people are unwilling to work in the sector, it is up to industry and Government to change perceptions. Almost everything we use in our daily lives has, at some point, been transported by a large goods vehicle. UK PLC relies on them."
Evidence gathered during the inquiry points to particular problems in distribution, where 91% of companies surveyed by the Freight Transport Association (FTA) reported difficulties in recruiting drivers.
The Committee heard that many thousands of licensed LGV drivers choose not to drive professionally. A combination of factors is conspiring to keep drivers off the road, including the cost of acquiring a licence; lack of investment in drivers' training; poor working terms; and inadequate roadside facilities.
The industry could look to under-represented groups for new recruits. Figures from the sector's own research reveal 92% of 400,000 or so people holding both an LGV licence and a Driver CPC are men.
While there were few reliable statistics on ethnicity or alternative working patterns, it was reported in 2010 that only 3% of the road haulage workforce in England was from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. The same report stated that only 9% of road haulage employees work part-time.
Sally Gilson, FTA skills policy development manager, said: “We are pleased to see that the Transport Committee has listened to FTA’s concerns – as this is a problem that isn’t going to solve itself.
“We strongly agree with the Committee and its calls for Government to provide more support, and with the need for better roadside facilities for drivers. This is especially important if more women are to be recruited – currently only one per cent of HGV drivers in the UK are female.”
According to the FTA Logistics Report 2016 more than 64% of truck drivers are over 45 – the average age has steadily increased over the past 15 years - and problems with filling vacancies are high on our members’ list of priorities. This has been compounded in recent years by the consequence of economic growth and the huge rise in e-commerce.
Lack of funding for vocational training for drivers means fewer are joining the industry and there is a real risk that the shortage of HGV drivers could severely impact the economy.
Gilson continued: “FTA has held driver and skills shortage summits to explore solutions and is working with various groups including students and service leavers to raise the profile of the industry and make a career in logistics more aspirational.”
In addition FTA has said it strongly supported the Committee’s call for Government to provide “clear, accessible guidance on skills, funding and support, employer standards, regulation and insurance for young drivers.”
One of the biggest barriers to licence acquisition is the cost of training, FTA has been calling on Government to provide a suitable loan system. The current Personal Career Development Loan option is not appropriate and a simple change to allow Level 2 qualifications to be included within the 19+ loan would provide the quickest and best solution.
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “Today’s report represents a fair reflection of the issues facing the industry. But let’s not lose sight of the positives. This is a great, diverse and vital industry with a wealth of opportunities - and we need to get that message across.
“The very real challenges facing the industry must be balanced with the range of career opportunities within this very large and progressive sector. The road haulage and logistics sector has something from everyone, whether in warehousing, driving, management, IT, finance and business development.”