The year before the global pandemic happened, the UK faced a shortage of nearly 60,000 HGV drivers. The year of the pandemic, that grew by more than 16,000 on top of that. The entire country has 74 examiners working full time, and HGV training courses are pressing for changes so the wait time for testing is reduced.
In the South East, it’s common to see lorry drivers queuing. However, the wait is happening now even before drivers can get a licence. The overall haulage industry has to deal with a current shortfall numbering thousands of needed drivers. With just 74 examiners working full-time across the entire country, clients are facing long queues just for a chance at taking the test.
Driver Require did a report that the pandemic will drop DGP enough to result in 10 per cent fewer employments among LGV drivers. That translates to around 30,000 drivers, and the gap is expected to hold for several years. Theoretically, that would actually help in dealing with the pre-pandemic shortage of drivers. However, there are other factors involved that could further diminish the available pool of drivers more than just a drop in demand. Conditions might even be exacerbated by the timing of multiple factors at one time.
Driver Require previously did a white-paper about the shortage in drivers, and in it they concluded that the UK needs 40,000 new LGV passes as entrants into the driving pool, just to maintain current levels. However, new passes have dried up during the pandemic. Also, DVSA testing facilities aren’t going to function at more than 60 per cent of their total capacity until there is enough vaccine deployment. At the time of writing, that was assumed to be the end of 2021 Q1.
Between lockdown measures and testing site capacity restrictions, the industry has already missed out on 16,000 new passes to date, and possibly more. If the current restrictions hold until successful vaccine deployment, another round of ‘lost’ new passes of roughly the same volume could happen.
The most optimistic projections, for now, suggest that the LGV driver shortage across the UK will get better by roughly 10,000 drivers. However, even this still means a decreased deficit and not a surplus, and that’s assuming foreign drivers will stay in the UK and keep working. Many foreign drivers are facing numerous factors that could possibly alienate them. The coronavirus pandemic is certainly one of them, but Brexit, IR35 reform, and new immigration rules are all complicating matters as well. If only 1 in 4 foreign drivers leaves, then it will offset any positive effect the pandemic recession had on the driver shortage.
For the time being, demand is going to exceed driver supply, given the double punch of Winter Peak requirements and backlogs after the lockdown. One expert anticipates LGV driver demand will nosedive during Q1 and Q2 of 2021, which is when Brexit is likely to unravel and the private sector has IR35 reforms rolled out. The driver shortage may get bad again in the back half of 2021 when the market for LGV drivers hopefully stabilises.
Without government intervention focused on results, the LGV driver shortage across the country could at times get much worse over the next year and a half.