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Employment in the HGV sector, how will it impact other industries?

Whenever there’s a change, there are winners and losers. Recently, the UK government made changes to make the HGV sector more appealing to job seekers, especially younger ones.

Currently, the HGV sector is benefitting from this. It is, however, important to consider the sustainability of these changes. Part of this involves thinking about the dynamics of the job market as a whole.

To explain further, Andrea Easton, Head of Finance and Operations of Walker Movements, shares her insight into the current performance of the HGV industry.

How the HGV sector has changed over recent years 

Even when the UK HGV sector had access to the EU labour market, it was a struggle to find HGV drivers. The number of active drivers had been on the decline for years before Brexit. Stakeholders routinely called for government action and were routinely ignored. They warned that the situation was a crisis in the making.

COVID-19 brought that crisis to a head quicker than anyone had expected. The government really had very little choice other than to take action. The government came up with a list of 33 actions to get more HGV drivers on the roads quickly. It worked to improve the availability of testing services and provided more funding for driver training.

It’s probably not a coincidence that there has been a significant increase in the number of people taking (and passing) HGV tests and hence becoming HGV drivers. Many of these new entrants are younger people. In fact, the UK recently welcomed its youngest-ever HGV licence holder. Robbie Smith from Kirkliston in Edinburgh obtained his C licence only two months after his 18th birthday.

Not only is the industry becoming younger, but it’s also becoming more diverse. In particular, it’s attracting a lot more women. Admittedly, it was starting from a very low base. Traditionally, HGV driving was almost exclusively male. Even so, the development is highly promising.

Can these developments be sustained? 

One of the realities of hiring is that there is always a finite number of job-seekers. This means that all employers are effectively in competition with each other for them. There is nuance in this competition.

For example, most people will have activities they enjoy and activities they prefer to avoid. They may actually, objectively, be good at activities they don’t enjoy. Even so, most people generally prefer their employment to be based on something they do enjoy.

Additionally, the role of humans in the workplace is changing. More and more routine tasks are being automated. This means that employers have less need for humans to perform certain types of roles. These are most likely to be roles that have traditionally been classed as unskilled.

This means that potentially the HGV sector could absorb some of the displacement from other industries. It might also be able to reduce the need for human drivers with driverless vehicles. There is, however, likely to be a limit on how far it can go with this since HGVs use the public road. This means they need a relatively high level of human supervision.

In short, therefore, it is certainly possible for the HGV sector to keep attracting new recruits. For it to do so, however, it needs to ensure that it stays more attractive than the competition. It also needs to be realistic about the fact that, sooner or later, the competition will up its game.

How can the HGV industry continue to attract new recruits? 

If the HGV sector is to keep on attracting new recruits, it will need to address the remaining pain points for drivers. This is probably going to require the industry to work in tandem with the government (or vice versa). Hopefully, the government will continue to recognise the important role the HGV industry plays in the economic health of the UK.

Make it easier for HGV drivers to comply with regulations

The UK HGV sector is one of the most highly regulated in the world. This certainly has benefits from the point of view of safety. Unfortunately, it also has drawbacks. In particular, it places a heavy administrative burden on drivers. What’s more, there are serious penalties for failing to comply with the many rules.

Trainees and new drivers may not fully grasp the practicalities of demonstrating compliance with all applicable laws. They will, however, invariably learn with experience and they may find that it is not to their liking. This could very well lead to them moving out of the sector. The government and the industry should, therefore, aim to work together to find a way to address this.

Resolve issues with IR35 

IR35 has been a source of complaints for years. There were cheers from many contractors when former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng unexpectedly rolled back some of its measures. Unfortunately, this cheer was short-lived as his successor Jeremy Hunt promptly reinstated them.

Rishi Sunak’s history as chancellor suggests that he will very much be minded to press on ahead with IR35. With that said, Sunak’s tenure as Prime Minister is likely to depend greatly on his ability to deliver an election win. This reality may encourage him to roll back his support for measures he backed when he was chancellor.

Keep on improving drivers’ working conditions 

On the one hand, drivers’ working conditions have improved a lot over the years, especially over recent years. On the other hand, living standards as a whole have improved a lot over the years, especially over recent years.

At present, the issue with drivers’ working conditions is not really the physical aspects of the work. For completeness, these are not perfect. There is definitely still work to be done. They are, however, at least decent overall. It’s the mental aspects of the job, particularly the isolation that can come with it.

Ironically, this aspect of drivers’ welfare is in something of a vicious circle. The fewer drivers there are, the more drivers are placed under pressure to do as much work as they can. This increases the likelihood that they will burn out.

In the short term, the HGV sector will simply need to do its best to manage this by mindfully prioritising drivers’ mental health. This will, hopefully, encourage more people to become HGV drivers and shoulder some of the workload.

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