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Driver Shortage?

This is an area where we've carried out a great deal of unpaid research and analysis to support our industry. The alleged UK driver shortage has become a 'brand' and almost universally accepted received wisdom. Identifying and drilling into key data, and making paid FOI requests, we have confirmed that the largest LGV-qualified group in the country is formed of people who choose not to drive, and who perceive a shortage of adequate remuneration, of respect, of facilities and of acceptable safe scheduling. This is a driver crisis which has become worse with a combination of Covid and Brexit.

We love projects that involve data analysis & research in any part of logistics - please do get in touch if we can help you.

Summer 2021: Various reports from the Driver Require Think Tank, to which Aricia has contributed.

Oct 20 with Nov 20 postscript: 2020 Update on the Driver Crisis in Britain, a follow up piece in Transport Operator, and a discussion that ensued on Trucknet.

Nov 18: Why don't people want to be HGV drivers?.

Sep 18: House of Lords' European Union Committee on Brexit: road, rail and maritime transport - see para 51 and the evidence provided by Aricia on the complexity of driver hours and length of the driver's working day.

Jan 16: There is No Driver Shortage - Kirsten's groundbreaking and influential piece on driver numbers: and then some spin-offs...

Jan 04: Motor Transport - Driver Shortage - yes, we've been talking about this for a long time article by Kirsten on the very same topic!

The remainder of this page is extracts from our logistics and retail updates page which will have some interest or relevance to those interested in the driver crisis.

Hang onto your drivers!

11 January 2022

That road freight pricing is dependent on driver availability might sound obvious, but the TEG Road Transport Price Index emphasises the extent to which that is the case.

The first time I was alerted to there being less truck than van drivers, was when Logistics UK’s Skills & Employment Report 2021 was released in early December. That change started in Q3 2020, but Q2 2021 is where the number of people saying they worked as HGV drivers fell to its lowest AND when van driver numbers exceeded 300K for the first time.

In this post, I’m not so interested in the price movement which is based on prices being paid for freight movements (although I am!), as the recent divergence of the haulage & courier elements of the TEG index. So what are we seeing on the graph below?

  • These price indices both start at 100 in January 2019 and show subsequent movement
  • The blue line is the haulage element and the yellow line is courier
  • The shading is to make it easy to see which is higher

I can’t offer a definite reason why the haulage element was rose more quickly than the courier element in early 2019, but in Q2 2019 fuel prices were rising quickly, although the increase was nothing like we’ve seen in 2021!

There were then 21 months where the prices for courier transport were higher in comparison, starting with substantial divergence as the pandemic got going - suddenly people needed things delivered to their homes, and equally suddenly the bottom dropped out of all sorts of more traditional markets such as high street logistics and food service.

Then, from April 2021 as prices rose, the haulier index started to run at a higher level than the courier index – closing only a small amount in November. I’m surmising that the reason for the divergence in these elements of the TEG Index (coincidentally occurring at the start of Q2 2021) was because of that change in numbers of different types of drivers.

We know that the number of HGV drivers started to pick up in late summer - the Driver Require bulletin in late November, gives the Q3 2021 HGV driver numbers as 261K. But despite that, prices have risen again in December, and the gap between the courier and haulage elements has been maintained.

So what? Well in logistics we can be pretty good at being efficient, being flexible with our resources, sometimes too efficient for our own longer term good. I guess my message is to make sure you hold onto your supply of HGV drivers during the usually quiet months of January and February, although with this year’s Omicron impact, you’re probably using them anyway!

Aricia Update - TEG Road Price Index - Driver numbers - HGV - Van - Haulier - Courier - Logistics Update

Job ads - perfect storm & feeding frenzy!

25 August 2021

Anyone who takes an interest in the economy and looks at the regular ‘real time’ indicators on the Office for National Statistics website (section 6 via link) can’t help but to have been struck by the extent of job adverts in the logistics and transport sector, with ONS having to rescale the graphs back in June to accommodate the enormous increase!

However, anyone who works in logistics can’t have helped being struck by February not being the best base to use as an index for our industry.

So, what is my graph showing? ONS has been accessing job advert numbers via Adzuna, an online job search engine that collates information from thousands of different sources in the UK. I’ve downloaded a data set from ONS that goes back to 2018 and through to about a fortnight ago. I’ve shown the job adverts for our industry (transport, logistics, warehousing), shown by the continuous purple line, and those for the UK as a total, shown by the continuous blue line.

Continued below graph...)

Aricia Update - Adzuna job adverts - vacancies - ONS - 25 August 2021 - Logistics Statistics

The ONS data uses an index in which February 2020 acts as a base line for measuring increases and decreases in activity. February 2020 is roughly when Covid hit the country and ahead of the first lockdown. February 2020 = 100 – the first of my bright pink rings going left to right across the graph, and the blue dotted line drawing attention to that level across the whole time period shown. A value of 90 would mean that there were less job adverts than the base line and a value of 110 would mean that there were 10% more adverts.

You can see that the need to advertise for logistics staff varies a great deal more than UK plc, and that a typical level of adverts for logistics has been 85% higher at peak than it has been in February for both years before Covid got going – this level is shown by the purple dotted line.

In February 2020 the level of adverts was typical for our industry for February, but that’s not a typical level of adverts for our industry across the normal year.

Between February and May 2020, as Covid bit, logistics job ads dropped in line with the rest of the UK – see the second of the pink rings on the graph. For the UK as a whole, job ads were at about a third in May of what they had been in February. For logistics, job ads in May were only a sixth of what they had been the previous peak. So, it’s no surprise that as things relaxed and ‘eat out to help out’ encouraged people to come out of their houses in the summer and spend, the number of job ads started to rise and by the autumn had exceeded the previous peak levels.

But what’s very clear is that few people in logistics saw what was coming post-Brexit, and with IR35 and further relaxation of Covid restrictions thrown into the mix. By mid-January 2021, shown by the third pink ring on the graph, job ads in our industry had dropped back to normal post-peak levels, albeit above the level of ads across the rest of UK plc. Since then, the increases in job ads in logistics have been enormous - I don’t like hyperbole like ‘stratospheric’, but somehow ‘enormous’ doesn’t really do justice to what has happened!

By mid-April 2021 job ads in logistics had beaten the figure for peak 2020, which in itself was higher than both the previous peaks. By late June it was 50% higher than for peak 2020 as a combination of hospitality, staycations, the school holidays and logistics staff's own holidays all started to create a perfect storm.

The ONS uses this data to act as a proxy for vacancies, and has done its best to de-duplicate this data – the Adzuna data is from thousands of different sources, so it includes multiple instances of the same job - it collates direct employers’ websites to recruitment software providers to traditional job boards thus providing a comprehensive view of current online job adverts.

But I’m left wondering whether the job adverts for our industry, which has been so dependent on agencies to fill roles at peak and often at other times, include hidden duplication. How obvious is it if Agency 1 and Agency 2 both advertise generally, knowing that by being first to recruit an extra driver they will get some extra business. While at the same time, the end company may well also be advertising if it is a permanent role. Has the de-duplication managed to address multiple companies essentially advertising the same role and contributing to the feeding frenzy?

While there are plainly many, many vacancies, I guess where my train of thought ends up is that job adverts may not be a good indicator of vacancy levels for an industry so dependent on agencies.

Is this why people don't work as HGV drivers?

8 December 2020

Yesterday the Office for National Statistics published some estimates from its Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE). I've combined two of the many data sets in the diagram below. What are the boxes in the diagram all about? It's my attempt to show the span of hours and span of pay for most full time employees working in the UK as a whole and for some specific occupations. See below the diagram for a description of how to read it.

Aricia Update Diagram - ASHE - Annual Survey of Hours & Earnings - 8 December 2020 - ONS - Hours - Wages - Logistics Statistics

On the x-axis is paid hours worked per week - the span of each box goes from the figure for the 10th percentile through to the 90th - if we look at the red box for the UK as a whole, it means that 80% of employees work somewhere in that span of hours (so it excludes the extremes at each end). And the y-axis shows gross weekly pay, and again the span runs from the 10th to 90th percentiles, so that 80% of employees get paid somewhere in that span. It's important to note that it will be a different 80% for the x and y elements of each box, but there will be a broad overlap.

Note the red spot which marks both median hours and median pay - so 50% of employees in the UK work less paid hours per week and 50% of employees get less gross weekly pay than indicated by the spot. You can see that FLT drivers are virtually all working more hours than the UK average, and that HGV drivers work considerably more!

NB ASHE covers employee jobs in the United Kingdom - it does not cover the self-employed, nor does it cover employees not paid during the reference period. Hourly and weekly estimates are provided for the pay period that included a specified date in April. They relate to employees on adult rates of pay, whose earnings for the survey pay period were not affected by absence. Estimates for 2020 include employees who have been furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). The forklift truck driver entry is described as an estimate as the ONS has not tried to estimate the 90th percentile for either pay or hours - I have based them on the other storage occupation shown.

No driver shortage at the moment

4 April 2020

Well, this is a different sort of an update for the different sort of time we live in. No stats or graph, more of a blog, but very relevant to the logistics industry.

Coronavirus gets going and everyone is panic buying – the grown-ups make a fuss about people shopping, telling people it’s unnecessary. But the concept of the need to feed the nation is born, with drivers hours regs relaxed to accommodate. My husband who has an up to date CE licence and medical, but let his DCPC expire in September, feels that he ought to be available to help this push to get food to where it needs to be. So he books a DCPC course starting Monday 23 March.

We get up two mornings running at 4.30am for him to be early for a 7.30 start on the other side of the Cotswolds. First day (long story – we’re not stupid and we did our best on Saturday on the web and by phone), he doesn’t find it until c8am and is told that he and another latecomer can’t join the course. So he comes home. That evening Johnson makes an announcement, but no-one from the training rings to say it’s not going ahead, so we have another 4.30am get up – this time there are three of them hanging around in the street – the trainer never appears, doesn’t ring...

At this point we’re £450 down and the company that he booked the course through are refusing to refund his money. After a bit of argy bargy, they do get him booked on the first-ever internet-based driver CPC course, and so we spent the whole of last week with our home office given up to all-day all-week Zoom-based training.

We’d agreed that because of my husband’s age (he’s not 'old', but if he catches Coronavirus, they won’t consider reviving him a high priority on the basis of his birth certificate!), he was only going to drive if it involved foods, pharmaceuticals etc – things that were really necessary.

So what’s the point of telling you this – well, there’s certainly no driver shortage at the moment. There’s certainly no excuse for further relaxation of the drivers hours regs. He rang one of the local agencies during the week – there’s no driving work of any kind. End of.

Why don't people want to be HGV drivers?

10 November 2018

There is a driver crisis, but we need to tackle it rather than exaggerate. We need to make the jobs attractive. There are over 940K people with HGV licences and up to date medicals, including over 100K people aged 25-45 with C+E licences who choose not to use them. There is a crisis, not a shortage. If you want to understand the graph fully, then read my four-pager here: Driver Crisis

Aricia Update - Driver Crisis - 10 November 2018 - driver numbers - driver ages - Logistics Statistics

Quick to cut, slow to recruit?

5 September 2018

At first glance the data released by the ONS (Office for National Statistics) during the past month on the number of people employed in transport and storage doesn't seem to tell any fresh stories. What it has shown since the financial crisis is that there was a much bigger comparative drop in the number of people employed in our sector than for the economy overall, and not just on a one-off basis.

The purple line (all in employment) on the graph below only really does a bit of a plateau following the collapse of Lehman Brothers et al. Whereas the red line (transport & storage) shows a drop of more than 12%, despite the increasing work content of burgeoning ecommerce. It's worth noting at this point that transport and storage does include passenger transport as well as logistics-related employment. It appears that our efficient and flexible transport & logistics industry was better and/or more able (compelled by cost control or perhaps because of low commitment to agency staff) at reducing personnel in a way that was not typical of the economy as a whole.

What also happened following the financial crash was that vacancies in transport and storage (not shown on graph, but in data released by the ONS at the same time) ran at a lower rate than for the economy in general. As a low margin industry we tend to use overtime as a first resort and hold off on recruitment until it becomes imperative. And the seasonal nature of our industry also means that we're loath to take on people for December who won't be needed come February. But, although we're back to a similar rate of vacancies per 100 employee jobs as the rest of the economy in this latest set of data, at peak last year we did move ahead and continue to have more than 40K vacancies (that's including warehouse staff and passenger transport), albeit still with a lower rate of vacancies than for a number of other sectors.

Aricia Update Graph - Transport & Storage Employment - 5 September 2018 - Vacancies - Logistics Statistics

Update on driver numbers

21 August 2017

Last week the BBC carried the news that UK unemployment has fallen to a 42-year low, and I imagine that there are people in the logistics industry thinking that the driver crisis will get worse.

During August, two stats that are of interest to the road transport industry have been released by the ONS: the SPPI index for freight transport by road and the number of people working as LGV drivers. Earlier this summer, and for the first time in over a year, the figures for the number of people with LGV licences was released by DVLA. And also, during the spring, the FTA's Logistics Report 2017.

The graph below shows the various driver related-figures - the number of C&CE licences (on the left hand side) is for GB only, the number of people working as large goods vehicle drivers (the middle block) is for the UK including Northern Ireland. The relative size of the 'shortage' can clearly be seen - the tiny block on the right hand side of the graph.

This update continues below the graph...

Aricia Update Graph - driver numbers - HGV - LGV - DVLA - DfT - ONS - FTA - 21 August 2017 Logistics Statistics

The number of licences held is for people with medicals, but not necessarily DQCs it would take just a week's training, with no test, for that not to be an issue if someone wanted to get work in our industry. It looks as if CE(db) is drivers with a 102 code - ie restricted to drawbars, although I'd like to see that in writing. It doesn't include more than a quarter million provisional LGV licences.

What the SPPI index for freight transport by road shows (not on the graph) is that haulage rates have risen by less than 1% over the whole of the past five years.

Brexit is coming and the driver crisis is not about to solve itself - something has to change.

You can find the various sets of statistics here:

If you found this piece interesting, you may be interested in our page on the driver crisis.

Driving - The Nation's Hardest Workers

1 November 2016

I wasn't intending to revisit the topic of drivers' hours, but last week the ONS (Office for National Statistics) published the latest Annual Survey of Hours & Earnings. Among a wide variety of statistics, they include paid hours worked by occupation, one of which is "Transport and mobile machine drivers and operatives" - wider than HGV drivers, it includes approx 670K full-time workers.

A quick explanation before looking at the graph. The median is the value below which 50% of jobs fall. It is ONS's preferred measure of average as it is less affected by a relatively small number of very high values. It therefore gives a better indication of "typical" than the mean. And percentiles mark the values below which certain proportions of jobs fall - for example, the 75th percentile is the value below which 75% of jobs fall.

What the graph below shows is the estimated hours worked per week across all occupations in the UK (red) and those worked for Occupation Code 82, Transport and mobile machine drivers and operatives (blue). The different shading shows median (deep colour), 75th percentile (lighter colour) and 90th percentile (outline only).

It can be seen that this occupation grouping, which includes HGV drivers, works considerably more hours than the UK average for full-timers (to which, of course, it is a contributor), and is the occupation (out of 34 groups) with the highest median, 75th and 90th percentiles.

Aricia Update Graph - ASHE - Annual Survey of Hours & Earnings - 1 November 2016 - ONS - Drivers Hours - Logistics Statistics

Some other notes: ASHE covers employee jobs in the United Kingdom. It does not cover the self-employed, nor does it cover employees not paid during the reference period. I've used the figures for full-time (so no part-time employees included). It should be noted that these figures are provisional and are accompanied by indications of their likely accuracy.

Could Brexit deliver positive change in UK logistics?

24 October 2016

The newspapers are currently full of all the disadvantages, both realised and potential, that arise from the "decisive result"* in the EU referendum. Assuming the country does go ahead with Brexit, there is potential improvement it could bring to the logistics industry and that is revision of hours rules that apply to drivers of heavy goods vehicles on non-international journeys.

In fairness to the EU, I think that the legislators had envisaged time would be more controlled by the amount of driving that could be undertaken, and hadn't foreseen a situation where the UK driver's life consisted of so much hanging around for one reason and another. Are the long days that have resulted, certainly in this country, one of the things that stops driving being an attractive job option?

Before EU drivers' hours regulations came along, the Transport Act of 1968 restricted the driver's working day to 12.5 hours through what was referred to as "spreadover".

And that was the case up until the amendments in 1986, which abolished the 1968 limits on driver duty when a driver was covered by EC rules - the new provisions on rest periods within the EC rules were seen as effectively limiting the hours for which a driver could be on duty.

In 2005 the Working Time Directive was applied to the road transport industry, with the very weak interpretation of PoAs (Periods of Availability) that was adopted in the UK. And that weak interpretation was accompanied by a casual approach to its use, in many ways turning what should have been protective legislation into just another administrative task.

However, until 2007, any reduction in daily rest from 11 to 9 hours still had to be made up by the end of the following week. After EC regulation 561/2006 was introduced in April 2007, no rest compensation was required.

Could a return to the past be helpful? Certainly pay would need to reflect the change as drivers would still have the same rent to pay and families to feed. It would not be an easy pill for industry to swallow. But I'm interested in how much could be made up for by efficiencies: reducing PoAs, which are often effectively an admission of wasted driver time. Would limiting the length of the working day back to the 12.5 hour spreadover help to make the job more attractive?

That change in April 2007 means that each and every week can include three 15 hour days. And after each of those 15 hours days, the driver needs to travel home, eat and say goodnight, before sleeping for a few hours and then getting up again ...quite probably at what I've seen described as stupid o'clock. Would you want to work those hours?

*37.4% of the UK electorate voted "Leave" in the EU referendum.

As this update is more of a blog, with no statistics as such, I've gone for a Wordle rather than a graph this time - click the pic to see how to create your own:

Aricia Update - Brexit - drivers hours - legislation - spreadover - 24 October 2016 - Logistics - Wordle

Update on 9 Nov: It's great to see this piece reported on in Transport Operator as part of a piece on driver wages.