The government is investing £34.5m in training contracts to get 11,000 HGV drivers on the road this year.
Government funding for 2022 is more than has been spent on driver training in the eight years previously as the UK tackles the driver shortage.
The industry has seen a “phenomenal” response from people wanting to train or retrain, said Richard Weston, strategy manager at Mantra Learning, a Manchester-based training company that has picked up a £5m training contract.
It has received 4,000 applications since 6 December.
Public funds needed
However, even with drivers salaries rising as high as £70,000, companies are wary of training staff who might walk off to another job, Weston told the FT.
“It gets very difficult to ensure that you get a return on your training investment, which is why some public funding is needed,” he said.
Sally Gilson, policy manager for skills at the Road Haulage Association, said: “Our sector works to wafer-thin margins, with 80% of our membership having 15 trucks or less. They don’t have £4,000 per person to spend on training.”
According to a report by Logistics UK, the number of drivers fell by a quarter during the pandemic from 308,000 to 236,000.
The ‘boot camp’ scheme runs until November, but the industry is signalling that further support may be required and that attention should turn to driver retention.
“Our job as an industry is not just to get drivers in through the door but to ensure they see this as a life-long career,” said Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation.
According to City AM, companies are adopting novel training formats to get drivers on the road more quickly. One contracted company, Easy As HGV, is using virtual reality training.
Managing director Tom McGhie said: “This VR training is going to be invaluable as it will enable candidates to revise and practice the skills they learn in our training course before they take their test. It’s far more effective than having them read a textbook or watch a standard, non-interactive video.”
Trade union Unite has accused the government of panicking in relaxing cabotage rules last year to allow more lorries to work in the UK with fewer restrictions.
Sky reports that the Department for Transport is not monitoring the number of lorries that are entering the UK or how long they stay.
General secretary Sharon Graham called the decision to allow foreign lorries to work in the UK for up to 14 days, a “knee-jerk reaction to the lorry driver crisis”.
“This is sheer incompetence by the government, which is playing Russian roulette with British road users,” she said.
Unite called on the government to tackle the root causes of the driver crisis, which it said were low pay, long hours and the lack of parking and welfare facilities for drivers.
A spokesperson for the DfT said that cabotage rules changes were one of 32 measures taken to alleviate the effects of the global lorry driver shortage in the UK.
“The department is monitoring the overall uptake of the additional cabotage rules and early indications are that they have been successful in assisting the resilience of supply chains, including providing key connections to ports,” they said.