The haulage and trucking sector is the fifth largest industry in the UK, employing more than 2.5 million people – so it may surprise you to learn that, according to estimates, less than 1% of workers in the sector identify as female. While progress is being made towards diversifying the lorry-driving industry in the UK, greater efforts clearly need to be made. This problem is made more urgent by the fact that the country is experiencing a shortage of qualified HGV drivers – however, this also means that there are more opportunities for women to enter the sector.
To address the gender disparity in the HGV workforce, it is important to understand the causes. There are a number of reasons why there are far fewer women in the haulage sector than men. One is simply that it is hard to overcome a historical lack of diversity; in a sector dominated by men, there is a lack of a support structure to allow women to enter. Without examples of successful women or role models to look to, many candidates will struggle to see their place in the industry, or succumb to the mistaken and stereotypical belief that only strong men can be professional lorry drivers.
There are also practical concerns that can deter women from applying, including the ways in which job advertisements are commonly worded. In this article, Lanes Group’s Debi Bell will explain why there are now more opportunities for women to become HGV drivers, and suggest simple solutions employers can implement to boost applications from female candidates, and ultimately recruit more women into your organisation.
Are there incentives for women to become professional drivers?
The number of people employed as HGV drivers in the UK fell by 53,000 between 2016/17 and 2020/21, according to the most recent Office of National Statistics data. To some, this may seem like the industry is shrinking, but in fact, it means that there are more opportunities to start a career in the industry.
The socioeconomic factors that have led to this shortage of HGV drivers include the departure of many European workers after Brexit, and administrative delays in granting HGV licences caused by pandemic restrictions. Beyond these unforeseen disruptions, long-term problems have contributed to this problem, including an ageing workforce and international supply chain problems that have compounded the problem in the UK.
Ultimately, this means that there are more opportunities for women to enter the industry than ever before. Further, there are considerable advantages, as businesses suffering from the shortage of drivers have begun to offer greater signing-on bonuses and benefits packages to attract and retain workers, and promote loyalty.
How can HR professionals attract more women to apply?
One of the simplest solutions you can implement to attract more women is to change how jobs are advertised and how descriptions are worded. A common problem is that the processes of applying for jobs in the haulage industry and the language used in recruitment often discourage women from applying for roles. Taking care to use gender-neutral language, and emphasising the breadth of responsibilities and duties a driver will have within your organisation, can help to combat the misconception that such jobs are best suited toward men.
At Lanes Group, our drivers may be involved in engineering or jetting work, interacting with customers and operating heavy machinery – by emphasising this variety, we have changed candidate perceptions of the role and made great steps forward in recruiting more women. We have also benefited from the launch of a pioneering wellbeing programme that keeps us in regular communication with all of our drivers. This allows us to create a sense of community in what can otherwise be an isolating profession, and to monitor employees’ mental health so that we can deliver support whenever it is needed.
Another way to appeal to female candidates is to emphasise any benefits your business provides that have been shown to appeal specifically to women. These include career development opportunities, flexible working and healthcare support, all of which are effective ways to not only attract women to roles, but to retain them.
For businesses, recruiting more women into the industry will be one of the fastest ways to overcome the HGV driver shortages and the challenges posed by the ageing workforce. By implementing the advice above and making practical changes, HR professionals can bolster their business’s ability to deliver on its responsibilities and overcome the issues caused by the industry-wide shortage.
Debi Bell is Head of HR Services of Lanes Group.