Last reviewed 24 May 2017

Richard Pelly, Director at Pellys Transport & Regulatory Law, takes a fresh look at the perennial problem of HGV driver recruitment.

Introduction

The difficulties with recruiting HGV drivers will likely be extremely well known to readers, and reports of the worsening driver shortage are routinely covered in the trade press. These difficulties are real and they inevitably impose a pressure on operators to “take whomever they can get”.

Faced with this reality, is there anything useful that a lawyer (or anyone) can say which might either aid recruitment or help with driver retention and/or compliance?

How bad is the driver shortage?

Ask an operator how many vehicles they have parked up in their depot today for which they have work that they had to turn away for want of a driver and the (anecdotal) answer is usually “none”.

This does not mean that there are no operators who do not face this position (one assumes that the issue can and does arise), but when analysed carefully, references to the worsening driver shortage often mean problems recruiting and retaining the right type of drivers rather than simply being unable to find anyone at all with an HGV driving licence.

Operators also worry that while they may be able to cope for the time being, they are ever more reliant on a loyal but ageing workforce that cannot go on forever.

However well (or not) the HGV industry is coping, it is generally acknowledged that the situation will get worse unless things change, and for HGV operators being unable to find the right calibre of driver (especially new and younger would-be drivers) is a serious problem that should not be underestimated.

What should operators do?

Stock answers include the following.

  • Paying a higher standard hourly rate and providing the opportunity for well-paid overtime.

  • Offering more holiday and/or a better benefits package.

  • Allowing flexible working and/or being willing to help drivers to reduce the number of duties which require overnight stays away from base (assuming that the drivers prefer not to do them).

  • Finding ways to make the job more attractive including better quality and fully funded in-house training.

  • Recognising that younger drivers will have an eye to career progression and finding ways to make this available to appropriate candidates.

  • Taking on the right type of person and then providing the HGV training at a subsidised cost or paying for all of it, providing the driver “keeps his nose clean and stays on after passing his test”.

There is nothing wrong with any of these proposals per se and from time to time, all operators will benefit from taking stock and looking again at their businesses to see what they can do to improve but not all operators can afford to make these offers and the flexibility that they can offer is often circumscribed by the work that they do.

Many who read this article will have arrived at work sometime before 7am. The day will probably have started with the odd niggle (a driver running rate, another driver reporting a defect on a vehicle that will have to be fixed and which will delay its departure from the yard, an overnight email from a customer requesting a change to a scheduled delivery, etc).

By the time all the vehicles are out on the road, there will be phone calls into the traffic office, paperwork from yesterday (at least), but often days and weeks of “admin” piling up, and that is before any problems on the road. When is there ever a good time (and when does anyone have the energy) to reassess the solution for their own business to what is an industry-wide problem?

Recruiting and retaining drivers

In professional services, so the cliché goes, you have to get the work, keep it, do it, bill it, and collect the cash on the bill. Actually “doing” the work (providing the right advice, etc) is only one component of the whole.

So it is with operators. Finding a person with a vocational driving licence that entitles them to drive an operator’s vehicle is only one first step in the process. (See also the Q&A on Returning drivers and category C entitlement.) There may come a time when there is an actual shortage of drivers when operators will have work for vehicles in their yards but no one to drive them (the timing of this problem might be accelerated by Brexit immigration controls). However, that does not mean that operators should not take steps now to make the best of their present circumstances.

So what ought operators to be doing in terms of recruitment and retention (and which is not disproportionately expensive and time-consuming)?

  • Start with a checklist that sets out every step that needs to be taken when taking on a new driver (with a column to tick off and a declaration to be signed and dated when everything is done, or with spaces to date and initial as you go through the process) — drafting one will save time in the long run and help ensure consistency and avoid things getting missed or forgotten.

  • Ask for a CV or get applicants to complete an employment pro forma which includes contact details, academics and a work history.

  • In the interview, ask the right questions — produce a standard list of them and aim to go through all of them every time (and record the answers).

  • Where possible, take up references.

  • Take copies of the driving licence, driver qualification card, digital driver card and any other accreditations (ask the driver to sign his or her name during the interview so that you can compare it to the driving licence signature).

  • Obtain an authority to check the driving licence history with the DVLA.

  • Don’t forget to make sure that every new driver is given a recorded driving assessment.

  • Obtain copies of any certificates of Driver CPC training so that they can be kept on file.

  • Have a statement of terms ready, and preferably a full contract of employment and a staff handbook that includes relevant information for drivers as well as a discipline and dismissal policy that is up to date and fit for purpose.

  • Add the details of new drivers into the necessary planners to monitor the expiry of key dates (driving licence, etc).

  • Have a plan for induction training and paperwork ready to record that the training has been provided and that the procedures are understood and will be followed.

Concluding points

Having a system for taking on drivers and documents that enable operators to record the process that they follow is not a “magic wand”. It does not and cannot transform an otherwise inadequate member of staff into something that they are not.

That said, operators know that in any team of drivers there are easily identifiable groupings of the best, those with pluses as well as minuses and those whom operators cannot wait to replace. Telling operators to make the best of what they have got is trite and risks being patronising (and it is what operators do every day anyway), but in a heavily regulated environment, managing recruitment properly helps professionalise the business and offers meaningful protection against the risk of non-compliance and against regulatory action when things go wrong as they will from time to time.