The HGV Driver Shortage: New Industry Facts and Perspectives

The inside of a truck cockpit, with the driver speaking into a radio handset.

Asset Alliance Group’s Industry Monitor is a barometer of the health and confidence of the UK Road Transport & Commercial Vehicle sector. According to the 2019 report, the impact of the HGV driver shortage in the UK is top of the list of concerns for 33% of surveyed operators.

Availability of skilled labour is an essential part of any successful business. But according to our survey of key industry decision makers in the UK Road Transport & Commercial Vehicle sector, the HGV driver shortage is having a detrimental effect on this vitally important part of the UK economy. In this article, we look at the composition of the driver workforce this year, the factors influencing their recruitment, and solutions suggested by key industry bodies.


HGV driver shortage: the facts of the matter


The exact size of the driver shortage ranges from 45,000 to 50,000 drivers according to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), and 52,000 by British International Freight Association (BIFA) estimates. In addition, the latest information from the Office of the Traffic Commissioners in Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s Transport Regulation Unit shows that the overall number of O-licence holders in the UK has fallen by 1.2% year-on-year. The biggest decreases come from restricted and standard national licence holders. 

As the driver shortage pushes up rates for UK operators, at seasonal times in particular, SMEs are being hit hardest. Small and medium-sized enterprises (which make up 85% of the road transport and commercial vehicle market), tend to have margins of just 1 or 2%. This means they simply cannot afford to train drivers themselves. Finding and keeping experienced, professional drivers has become a continuous challenge. Almost two-thirds (65%) of those surveyed for Asset Alliance Group’s Industry Monitor 2019 said they were battling to find skilled drivers, in contrast with just 32% who said they were not having any difficulty. The effect this is having on business performance at road hauliers and logistics operators is borne out by the fact that one in five of those surveyed have turned away customers because they had failed to source enough drivers. 

The Apprenticeship Levy, which was meant to speed up the flow of drivers into the industry, has failed to be of significant benefit. Of the more than £140 million paid by the industry in levies, just £10 million has been drawn down by road transport operators. CEO of RHA, Richard Burnett, says, “The Apprenticeship Levy doesn’t work for our industry. The £140 million paid into the levy is disappearing into the Treasury coffers. We have a shortage that is increasing and is being exacerbated by Brexit because EU labour is essentially going home. We also have low levels of unemployment, so we need to find ways to make this industry more attractive.” 

Brexit has undoubtedly had an effect on the UK driver shortage. In contrast to the issue of national O-licences, the number of standard international operators has risen. This might suggest that operators are making sure they have the right licensing arrangements for international operation post-Brexit. But although the uncertainty surrounding Brexit has had an impact on the industry, the number of restricted and standard national O-licence holders has been falling steadily since 2012, with 2015/16 the exception. This points to a bigger problem within the industry that has a number of causes and several possible cures or at least temporary solutions.


HGV driver shortage: causes and solutions


A lineup of semi-trucks next to an asphalt road, with leafless trees in the background


Significantly fewer young people are taking up careers as commercial drivers – the average age of a truck driver is now at 57 years. 

Asset Alliance Group’s Industry Monitor records that 35% of surveyed decision makers believed the main reason for the HGV driver shortage was low wages compared to similar jobs, while 21% said current drivers’ hours legislation made work unappealing for those with family commitments, 12% said it was the prohibitive cost of CPC training, and 8% put the shortage down to poor roadside facilities across the UK.

 The Industry Monitor results suggest that while there is no single cause of the driver shortage, the best way to deal with the shortage is by using a multi-prong approach that targets all the issues that may be discouraging people from choosing a career as a commercial driver.


Cause #1: Low wages


The Labour Party’s Labour Research Department puts the average increase for basic rates of pay in the transport and communication sector in 2018 at 2%, down from 2.7% in 2017. According to the Commercial Vehicle Engineer journal, driver pay is likely to increase by 2.5% in 2019. Compare this to pay increases across the UK workforce, recorded by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for 2014/15 as 2.9% in the service sector, 3.6% in finance and banking, and an average 4% pay increase in construction. 

Although driver wages are increasing faster than inflation, according to the RHA, it’s clear that current rates of pay are not enough to compensate for the long hours, cost of training and poor working conditions characteristic of the industry. 

For now, the ability of most operators to increase driver pay beyond the 2% to 3% mark is unlikely, due mainly to small profit margins and the drip down effect of customers under pressure to reduce costs in the current economic climate.


Cause #2: drivers’ hours


A view inside the cockpit of a commercial vehicle, with the driver’s arms and a GPS system.


The frequent — and significant — changes to drivers’ hours, working time and tachograph rules in the last 10 years have done nothing to attract new entrants to a professional driving career. Although the Freight Transport Association (FTA) is advocating for a period of stability in these policy areas, Brexit is likely to lead to another policy upheaval. 

One tantalising long-term solution to the HGV driver shortage could be autonomous or driverless trucks, which are being trialed around the world. The UK’s first on-road HGV platooning trial is set for this year. This will involve a convoy of three wirelessly connected DAFs driven by the manufacturer’s engineers. The project is supported by an £8.5 million government-funded trial that will see the platoon incorporated into DHL Supply Chain’s day-to-day delivery operations. 

According to Asset Alliance Group’s Industry Monitor, 56% of surveyees believed that autonomous trucks had no future in the UK road transport industry, while 27% said that they did, and 17% remained unsure of the future of autonomous trucks. It will be interesting to see how opinions change with the formal introduction of driverless commercial vehicles to UK roads in the coming months.


Cause #3: Cost of CPC training


The introduction of the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) in 2014 dealt a blow to the number of people working as commercial vehicle drivers. The certification fee led to many near-retirement-aged drivers choosing to retire early. Now, in addition to the CPC, new drivers face high training costs of around £3,000, as well as high insurance premiums. One way to bring young people into the profession is by government paying for the first 12 weeks of training while they become productive and get their licence. 

According to Asset Alliance Group’s Industry Monitor, although the number of people applying for and passing cat C, C1, C+ E and C1+E tests has increased in recent years, it has not compensated for the very low numbers who qualified at the start of the decade. A further complication is the absence of cat C+E licence training in the Large Goods Vehicle driver apprenticeship. The year-long apprenticeship, launched in 2016, includes only the cat C licence, limited to rigids. The FTA has gone so far as to describe this as “not fit for purpose” because it fails to address most hauliers’ needs and does not address the HGV driver shortage. 

The Apprenticeship Levy, which is payroll funded, requires all employers with a yearly pay bill of more than £3 million to pay into the fund. Employers utilise these funds to pay for apprenticeship training and assessment for apprentices who are employed at least half the time in England, up to the maximum funding band for that apprenticeship. (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have devolved powers over apprenticeships.) This method is problematic when an operator needs an apprentice to be trained to drive an artic, but the current framework for standardized apprenticeships only covers a rigid licence. 

Of those surveyed for the Industry Monitor, some said the poor level of training available for those wanting to start a career as an HGV driver was due to little or no effort being made by government to bring young drivers into the industry, while others believed the industry had to take some of the blame, with poor working conditions, pay levels and career opportunities acting as deterrents for young entrants.


Cause #4: Poor roadside facilities


A lack of roadside facilities continues to exacerbate the driver shortage. Too few suitable parking spaces, and showers and toilet facilities that are either unavailable or not up to standard, is part of the HGV driver’s daily reality. Without first improving driver facilities, the industry will not attract new people to driver jobs. 

While the road transport industry is one of the most regulated in the UK, simple issues of parking for mandatory rest periods, clean restrooms and places to buy healthy food, has been neglected. Government must shoulder most of the blame along with a number of large industrial parks on greenfield sites that will wheel-clamp trucks if a driver stops even for a few minutes to read a map.   

Planning and environmental regulations have made getting approval for a truck stop a serious challenge, and for now government and planners have no strategic plan for truck parking and improved roadside facilities.


Award-winning support for the road transport and commercial vehicle sector


Asset Alliance Group supports the commercial vehicle and bus and coach sectors with lending contract hire and leasing, fleet management, and finance packages. Beyond offering a range of flexible finance packages, we also purchase, refinance and procure for our clients. We can buy your assets outright and tailor monthly contracts to your needs. Our business is about saving you time and money, whether you’re looking for new or used commercial vehicles for hire or trucks for sale. As a full service finance and leasing business, we have a complete asset management division to deliver real value to your business. 

If you are a fleet operator, owner or financial director looking for trucks and trailers for sale or you’re upgrading or refinancing your fleet, please get in touch with our team at Asset Alliance Group. We’d be delighted to discuss how we can help. 

We hope you will use the data and insights in the full Asset Alliance Group Industry Monitor 2019 Edition as a useful business tool for navigating the road ahead.



16 thoughts on “The HGV Driver Shortage: New Industry Facts and Perspectives

  1. I’ve been a HGV1 driver for more than 20 years, perhaps it’s due to low wage, lack of facilities on the roadways I.E the expense on all motorway services and the rediculous CPC drivers card ( as it’s possible to do the same module five times ) is another expense to add.

  2. A majority of HGV driving work is via agencies. During the winter months running up to Christmas you won’t struggle to find work, but come January you’ll be sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring and put you life on hold just in case a job comes up. It used to be quiet until March, but this year there was little work until the end of April. Working through an agency means if you have no work, you have no income. I’m seriously thinking about leaving the profession.

  3. I believe the shortage is related to the standards shown to drivers by the delivery points, Amazon and Bestway in particular dreadfull waiting times no communication lack of facilities I.e canteen and keys taken away so you cant feed yourself from own supplies, treated like monkeys no way would other industries allow this, 4 hours waiting is far to long trucks and drivers need to be working to cover the low profit margins.
    Definitely needs investigating ad drivers are being forced to break word rules out of there control.

  4. I am newly qualified driver c1+e and now have been driving for six months and I can see why there is a shortage of drivers in the uk especially with confusing rules on driving time especially the wtd and low wages offered, if anyone asked me is it worth it I’d say stay clear especially with the initial outlay of cost for the licence they are better off going into other trades such as a plumber or electrician. In short the industry has got alot to sort out mainly on the pay front and general attitude towards drivers

    1. I have been driving class 1 for over 25 years National and international I don’t think facilities are a major factor but pay and long hours are I would never do European or container work again I worked at Asda 10 years good money home every night now Sainsburys which I like a lot but the best company I worked for was NFT 4 days on 4 days of with good fixed wage if company’s could give a fair wage plus 4 on 4 of then I think the job would be good again, but not many people like sleeping in cabs 3 days aweek working weekends or starting at 0200 but yes more pay and the 4 on 4 of would be a great start

      1. Long working hours of shifts between 12 and 15 hours are a regular thing. Companies treat drivers very badly. Tell them you don’t want to do a 15 hour shift then have a huge argument about it. What other industries treats you like that. I’ve had to change jobs over the years to get better pay so I know most companies are all like this! Fact! the industry just uses and abuses you and I wouldn’t recommend this industry to anyone who wants a life. However if you want to earn 25k – 35k for a 50 – 60 hour working week welcome aboard 👍

  5. I work for £land the new agreement here means that the drivers mate can be earning more than the driver. Also as soon as I start shift its nonstop vehicle checks driving unloading refuel and checks and debrief at the end of each run while the divers mate will do 2/2.5 work tipping into shops on a 10 hour shift the night sleep or social media or Netflix for 8 hours so what’s the point of having C+E Licence when at times I can earn more on a pump truck or sleeping ??

    1. 4 years ago I retired from a 30 year long career and took up class 1&2 driving. Paid for it all including the CPC.
      Within the first few weeks of being taken advantage of by driving agencies I realized very quickly that I had made a mistake.
      The pay is absolutely appalling, they are very very low for both hgv 1 and 2. In fact the difference is between 50p and a pound.
      Then you have the long and at time un sociable hours, which anyone working in an office job would flat refuse to do.
      To top it all of it’s the way people talk to you like your some thing on the bottom of there shoe. From any depot office staff to custumers.
      Also for the love of god, stay away from class 2 multi drops work. Your nothing but a slave for the company you work for and the custumers that think your nothing but low life.
      Yep, I made a mistake and every day I look for another job direction, however I am in my mid 50s now, so I am in the unique sector of not being wanted in any other profession. So for the time being I am stuck in this god forsaken life sapping job. 🙁

  6. i’ve been driving for nearly 30 years and its getting worse. now they want to change the highway code so that cyclists can undertake and even if your turning left if there’s a cyclist in the distance and they are going straight on they have the right of to come pass you on the left even with indicator on, also if you hit them they are absolved of any blame due the highway code the bigger you are the more responiablity for any incident.
    the current road network is NOT suitable for the size of the lorries in use today if we were 10 feet shorter and narrow they are perfect. how many companies have taken the longer trailers? or who have tried them and disguarded there use?.
    The amount of highways departments who have even narrowed roads now so that if there two or three lanes lorries cannot be side by side as there mirrors will be damaged (manily at junctions and islands).
    why the industry cannot recuit new drivers unsocialable hours, long days not granuteed to get home, bad pay, 40 hour week- don’t make me laugh, the amount of regulation you have to know
    i was doing a CPC course and there was a HR woman in the class she told us that she was going to be dealing with disaplaianyfor the drivers and she told her boss if she was doing that then she wanted to know what we did. when we told her the regulations and how we had to apply 2 sets she said no wonder that you make mistakes.
    motorway services parking is a joke prices are to expensive even when they mark out parking bays they are not long enough and are very narrow and parking nose to tail?
    on top of that you are treated like muck by everyone.

  7. Sirs I have held my class 1 hgv license now for 50 yrs when I started driving back in the 60s I earned more money then pound for pound for what I do now back then we had to show 28 mph average there were no sleeper cabs every driver used digs every town had truck parking if you started before 6am you were paid 8 hrs for changing from days to nights your nights out consisted of 2 nights out and 3 dodgys put your log book up to a on coming truck he’d drop you off at the services to pick your truck so you could run into depot also the guy that gave you your notes if you didn’t know were a place was chances are he did I always remember working for wincantons containers at felixstowe one of the office staff was asked if he knew the capital of Edinburgh to which he replied Paris and he wasn’t joking

  8. 2- when I started driving there was a different atmosphere we used to park up a lot at Johnny’s in Northampton he used to send a van down to the 4 fishes truck park bail about 6 drivers in at a time back to the digs good food good facilities and every driver had a huge fried breakfast then back to the 4 fishes start your day refreshed from the 60s nobody ever deficated in a layby now they shut them for weeks to let the councils clean up that was thanks to sleeper cabs tachographs and a succession of idiots who some how managed to sit in a driving seat. I’m 73 now I still hold my HGV 1 full ADR hiab cert I’ve got agency s ringing me up I say what is the rate ohhh we can pay you £11 ph to which I reply aldi is advertising in stowmarket there offering £10.47 ohhh that’s all we can pay to which I ask is £11 for driving a van to which the agency replies no that’s 4 night out with a possible run in Saturday tilt work to which I reply ring me back when you have a job paying £16 ph which there is out there we just have to stick out for it ,the night out money has stalled at £25 and if you look at some of the parasites they want to pay £23.50 just a great shame drivers have been saying for 30yrs if we stuck together for 4to5 day this could be the best job on the planet for money and conditions I’ve been on strike as a Hgv driver twice in 1968 and 1971 with the TGWU not long after that the TGWU was so disgusted with hgv drivers they changed there name to unite

  9. The cpc coarse is a waste of time a money earner again off us drivers.. don’t they think we av enough on without paying for that rubbish. Anyway us drivers arnt putting up with it anymore. I know loads of people arnt renewing it. But like everything else in this country someone’s aving a good drink out of it.

  10. Capitalism out of control ! Wages are worse now than they were in the 60s , companies squeezing the last Penney from employees to give to share holders !
    High costs of training the driver has to pay himself , facilities have disappeared because of motorways The only things that have improved since the 60s are the Trucks , most if not all are built in Europe because the industry and the manufacturers were too slow to adapt as they didn’t value or listen to the drivers themselves !

  11. I’m class 1 driver not any more yes 👏.there is not a shortage of drivers there is a shortage of well paid jobs who in there Wright mind likes starting work a 03.00 hours it’s a joke I have not bothered to drive class 1 for 3 years and sadly will let my license run down and it was so hard to get .all the cpc and the cost .any companies that will pay a good wages will get drivers no £9.00 per hour then get called in the office you harshly bracket and you over rev engine yes I way just under 44 tons yes all that for £9.00 hour to all the other drivers out get out and get a life that’s if you’re wife has not ran of joke transport uk lol

  12. Having left the HGV world for a proper job after 10 I’m coming back to it and rapidly rethinking as have done some agency work and found that at 12.50 an hour for hiab work is a joke , the responsibility is massive for the pittance paid and the agency change the customer up to £20 per hour … I even drove a small van for 9£ per hour. How can that be right …. Minimum wage for a van no cpc, tacho, weigh limits to worry about BUT for 3£ a hour more all the stress and responsibilities…. RHA want to have the eastern guys back as they will work for less and more hours .. Of course they want that more profit , But if they paid the UK drivers better money they would get a better service and be shocked at the level of professionalism that is out there ….. Agencies need to up the wages and stop the greed … maybe I’ll just start my own agency and pay the wages we deserve, we are trained professionals drivers and should be seen as such … I love driving and serving the customers with pride but now knowing what’s out there it may be rethink time …

  13. Hi 40 years on the road UK, international.
    I agree with the comments stated.
    The UK government and the road haulage transport sector has seen this coming 20yrs ago as the continental drivers have HGV proper services (not queuing in a little room for one shower 15 men)200 plus trucks in a new M1 m62 ferry bridge service that is a joke along with many more.
    1980 the old roads had plenty of overnights stays at reasonable prices. Now weight limits have seen them go and nothing has taken their place. Why should you pay to park up, sleep in your cab just enough room to open your door from anouther truck.,and hope the fridge isn’t on and off all night disturbing your sleep, after a 15hr day.
    Again increased driving hrs to 10hrs a day, what a joke even more tired drivers.
    UK transport has lost its way.
    Suggest we get the cons that have a 5 year term train up as HGV drivers put them on tramping out all week under a tracker pay back the cost after a wage, and I think most would sooner do their time in a warm cell 3 meals a day.
    60 yrs was retirement now 66 not long left .
    Living the dream. Ha ha.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.