14th January 2021

The UK truck driver shortage in 2021

Britain’s trucker shortage has become a growing problem for the UK economy. Increasing numbers of drivers are needed to move essential and every-day goods throughout the UK. This article will find out the reasons behind the shortage of HGV drivers, discover how bad the issue is, and learn if there is a solution.

How bad is the truck driver shortage?

There is a shortage of 76,000 HGV drivers in the UK, according to a report from ITV in 2020. This figure had grown from 59,000 in 2019 - showing the ever-growing demand for qualified truck drivers, who are desperately needed to keep goods moving across the UK and Europe. 

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) published a report that stated, “64% of transport and storage businesses now face severe skills shortages.” Another report predicts that the trucker shortage could grow to 257,000 drivers by 2022.   

Sally Gilson from the FTA explains that “the logistics sector is the lifeblood of the nation’s economy, supplying businesses with the goods they need to operate and contributing a total £124 billion gross value added (GVA) each year. The UK economy cannot operate without HGV drivers; they are an integral part of the logistics workforce and a vital cog in the UK’s interconnected supply chain. Without them, businesses would simply come grinding to a halt, and Britain would find it very hard to keep trading.”

The lack of truck drivers appears throughout Europe. Germany has 45,000 truck driving vacancies, and the DSLV Transport Union has explained that two-thirds of all German lorry drivers could retire within 15 years.

Why is there a shortage of truck drivers?

The UK has an ageing truck driver workforce, with an average age of 48 years old. 47% of drivers are over 50, and only 1% are under 25. A negative industry image that includes poor working conditions, average wages and an uninspiring career path, is putting off younger generations from becoming HGV drivers – meaning there is a lack of new operators joining the sector.  

Even when a younger driver decides to join the industry, many fleets refuse to take on drivers under 25 because of inflated insurance premiums. For SME fleet operators in the UK, profit margins usually range between 1-2%, which means they cannot afford to insure or train younger drivers.  

Plus, it can be expensive to qualify as a commercial truck driver – with some truckers paying up to £5,000 to gain their necessary licences and Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC.)  

The turnover for lorry drivers is also very high, and driver retention is a big problem for the industry. RoadStars claim that there are nearly 80,000 qualified lorry drivers, working in other professions. 

Tom Cornwell from the RHA talks about the UK's driver shortage.

The truck driver shortage has been made worse by the disruption caused by Covid-19. Far smaller numbers of new drivers are getting on the road – with lockdown reducing the number of lessons and tests taking place. UK Haulier reported that at least 16,000 new passes have effectively been ‘lost,’ due to Covid interruption. 

However, the commercial fallout from Covid has meant that lots of businesses have had to make cut-backs, and many drivers have seen their work dry up. The good news is that a national driver shortage means there is likely to be work elsewhere.

What is the demand for truck drivers in the UK?

Motor Transport say that there are 320,000 truck drivers currently operating in the UK. But the growing demand for drivers is massively out-weighing the number of available operators, and next-day deliveries could be a thing of the past.

Brexit has the potential to be a ticking time bomb for the lorry driver shortage. Truck and Driver report that roughly a quarter of drivers in the UK come from the EU, and it is still unclear if Brexit will impact the 60,000 European drivers working on UK roads.

Richard Burnett from the RHA talks about the impact of Brexit on the truck driving crisis.

The ongoing uncertainty from Covid, means an increasing number of consumers depend on home deliveries, while supermarket shelves need filling. It is also vital that hospitals and pharmacies have a regular supply.

The economic implications of the trucking industry driver shortage are potentially huge. The RHA explain that the haulage sector is responsible for moving 90% of the UK economy – affecting seven million people who make, sell and move goods.

How do you solve a shortage of HGV drivers?

HGV driving is a male-dominated industry, and the lack of diversity has added to the shortage of truck drivers. According to the FTA, only 1.2% of all UK drivers are female. Breaking the stereotype and getting more female truckers on the roads is essential to solving the HGV driver shortage, and recruitment needs to reflect this. 

Another problem for new truck drivers is the red tape hurdles they have to overcome. If regulations were relaxed and grants were more accessible, it would help the number of younger truckers joining the industry. 

The lack of training and testing could be solved by adopting a different strategy. ITV reported that bus companies can test drivers themselves, but this option is not available for HGV training schools. Adopting this strategy would allow much more drivers to gain the necessary skills and accreditations.

The RHA has been trying to change the negative public perception of truck driving - in campaigns such as the ‘National Lorry Week.’ They hope to raise awareness of the crucial work that truckers do and encourage new drivers to join the industry. There have also been loud public calls to raise working conditions and the rate of pay. 

Sally Gilson at the FTA says, “to tackle the labour shortage, FTA is calling for the Apprenticeship Levy to become a Skills Levy, so previously unused funds can be utilised for more flexible training programmes; the current scheme is not fit for purpose. FTA is also calling on government to improve driver facilities to make HGV driving a more attractive career for individuals of all ages.”


Action must be taken to fix the shortage of truck drivers in the UK. The problem is growing each year, and it may soon reach a boiling point. How would you solve the demand for truck drivers? 

If you are interested in joining the industry, follow this link to find out more about HGV driver jobs - including where to find driving positions, how to apply and what you need to include in your CV.  

Josh Cousens | SNAP. 

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