The shortage of HGV drivers in the UK and reports of salaries of up to £50,000 has prompted some people to change careers and retrain to join the sector.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) estimates there is now a shortage of more than 100,000 qualified HGV drivers in the UK.
Three people seeking to join the sector speak about their experiences so far.
‘I like the idea of no office politics’
Stephen Caen, 59, from Hinckley, Leicestershire, left his executive role in IT after 40 years. He says the freedom of being on the road and the lack of office politics is what attracted him to retrain as a HGV driver.
“I love driving cars and vans,” he says. “I have always enjoyed the solitude, so I thought why not do it because I don’t want to get back into the politics of senior executive management. I used to work 80- to 90-hour weeks, so a 50-hour week behind a wheel should be a piece of cake.”
Although Caen paid a training agency to organise the application process, he says it has taken much longer than he had expected – closer to six months, double the time he was initially told it would take.
“It is pretty complicated,” he says. “I think a lot of people will struggle and could get put off because of that.”
He is currently waiting to be booked in for his driver training and test, adding that the delays in between each stage of the training are “killing it”.
Caen also believes the government should take steps to encourage firms to take on new drivers as most ask for six months’ to two years’ experience.
“The government should be motivating and incentivising companies,” he says. “In the past with other sectors, for example, a firm would get £1,000 for every person they take on who stays for six months. It could be something like that.”
‘I keep questioning if this is actually worth it’
Sarah, 44, an artist and college technician from Manchester, longed to be a HGV driver as a child, inspired by long road trips throughout Europe with her father, a salesman, and her love of Long Distance Clara from the 1980s’ kids TV show Pigeon Street.
She never followed through with her dream due to concerns about working in such a male-dominated industry. But the shortage of HGV drivers pushed her to revisit it, with the hope that the higher wage and shift work would also better support her as an artist.
“When I was 28, after a career in administration and business then about five years working for the NHS, I became an artist,” she says. “An unconventional life was what I wanted and I didn’t want to work a nine-to-five any more. I’ve got a gallery in London, and I’ve just had an exhibition. The idea of becoming an HGV driver for four days on, four days off is brilliant. It would give me loads of time to practise my art work.”
But Sarah says the bureaucracy involved in getting an HGV licence make her wonder if she will manage to achieve her goal. “It seems like an impenetrable industry. I’ve managed to get my provisional licence and now need to start working towards my theory test. However, the DVSA [Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency] book for theory revision for driving goods vehicles is out of print.”
Although she hopes sales from her recent art exhibition will help offset the costs, she also worries about the financial hit involved. “It’s going to cost me around £3,000 to go through the training. It’s a total minefield out there with training companies. How do you know which ones are reputable? I feel very alone and constantly keep questioning if this is actually worth it.”
‘The high price of the training is the kicker for me’
For Craig, 37, a customer services administrator from Southend-on-Sea, working from home during the pandemic finally convinced him to retrain as a HGV driver.
He says: “I’ve always had a desk job and working at home recently, over the past year or so, I think has pushed me to think of a change. I can’t be sitting indoors any more.
“I have done a few driver jobs in the past and it was extremely enjoyable. I also was drawn to the idea of earning a bit more money and when I heard about the HGV driver shortages I decided to go back to driving in a more professional manner.”
Craig is holding off on proceeding with his plans until 15 November, when the government’s rule changes for learning to drive an HGV will be announced.
But he adds that the cost of the course and the fact that haulage companies do not seem keen to take on the risk of hiring newly qualified drivers concerns him.
“The price is the kicker. There are also other costs and when you take that into account it will be about £3,000.
“The problem you’ve got is that even if you pass your test you then go to these companies, and they’re all saying, well, we need six months’ to two years’ experience.”