Easier driver test is “a risk, not a solution,” says BJS director Harinder Singh
The UK Government's plan to shorten the HGV driver test to help fill the current driver shortage “is not a solution, it is a risk," says Harinder Singh, Managing Director of BJS Distribution Storage and Couriers. The manager adds that temporary visas for drivers would be a more practical solution.
“Making the test easier does not make better drivers. The solution to the current shortage is to allow temporary visas to drivers from countries that understand the legislation and legal driving parameters of the UK, otherwise this isn’t going to solve itself” – says Singh. -“By making the test easier you are putting more risk onto the road.”
The shortage of drivers has been present for the past 20 years, added sales director David McWilliams. He thinks that the current spike has been created by a combination of Brexit, COVID and the recently imposed IR35 rules.
COVID might have slowed down the number of trainees coming through, though the reality is there was a worrying trend pre-pandemic of more drivers looking to retire than wishing to train.
“We now have a situation where drivers are in great demand and have a platform to influence change; wages is an obvious starting point but also the less visible aspects of the role – such as the facilities available to them while they are on the road, and the lack of respect from the public – are examples of other aspects of the industry in need of reform” – explains McWilliams.
The government, the industry and consumers demanding ever lower product prices delivered ever faster, have largely ignored these real day-to-day driver issues, and as a result, there is a lack of people wishing to enter the industry (a sector with a large number of career opportunities beyond that of driver).
McWilliams says that an additional hurdle the new tests won’t overcome is that after new drivers have passed the shortened test, they will still need three months mentoring with an experienced driver.
“And who will pay the £12k the new driver will want over those months just to be shown what to do? And what if they then leave and go elsewhere with their new skills?” – asks the manager. – “A lot of new drivers gain licences then never use them professionally, so while a focus on testing might get things moving, to keep them moving we need to take a longer -term view of a driver’s career.”