Inside the battle to boost female trucker numbers amid HGV driver shortage

ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi reports on the haulage industry's efforts to boost the number of female drivers and the issues making some reluctant to join the male-dominated workforce

One solution to transport's manpower shortage - womenpower.Its taken a crisis in the UKs supply chains to highlight one of the biggest gender imbalances in our society.

The haulage industry estimates that there is a shortfall of up to 100,000 HGV drivers, yet only between 1% and 3% of truckers are female.

Our new research shows that the shortage of drivers is causing problems across a broad range of sectors - including grocery, construction and waste.

The haulage industry estimates there is a shortfall of up to 100,000 HGV drivers. Credit: ITV News

Transport firms are now offering thousands of pounds in incentives to sign-on much-needed lorry drivers - but the industry has been missing out on recruiting from half our society... females.The women HGV and LGV drivers I've spoken to during my research are an impressive bunch - it takes determination and character to make a living in this male dominated world.

Various groups have formed such as "Mother Truckers" and "Queens of the Road". It is vital these dedicated professionals get a higher profile.

Hayley is among those training to become a HGV driver. Credit: ITV News

Part of the solution to the lack of female recruits is to showcase roll-models to women and girls who may not see this job as an option for them.

Industry organisations are currently planning to send female HGV drivers into schools aiming to highlight this as a career.The industry claims to be doing lots to attract more females, but the current figures show they are failing. I have no doubt their intentions are good, yet on the ground things can look different.

The haulage industry says it is struggling to find enough HGV drivers to keep the economy moving. Credit: ITV News

I've been hearing stories from women who have had to put up with sexist comments and attitudes from colleagues.

I've seen for myself how facilities for truckers can be geared more for men, understandable because they are in such a huge majority in this sector, but something that can seem unwelcoming for women.

Female HGV drivers who have been on the road for decades tell me that great improvements have been made and problems are no longer widespread - but most of them also told me that more can still be done.

Female truck drivers have told Chris Choi of the way some male truckers treat them while at work. Credit: ITV News

The industry needs to listen very openly to what these women have to say.Some female truckers, including Jill Noble who I filmed for my TV report, are also mothers and have managed to balance family and work life on the road.

Its often only possible with the right support from employers, family and others. Some drivers are able to make a good living without making long-distance trips that take them away from home for lengthy periods.

The gender gap in haulage reflects far wider imbalances in our society whereby women are often taking more childcare responsibilities than men.The lack of women is only one issue causing the driver shortage.

Brexit meant lots of EU drivers left and the pandemic has stopped many new recruits getting trained and tested.

The driver shortfall has been caused by a combination of Covid, Brexit and other factors. Credit: ITV News

Now employers are in a bidding-war to attract more staff so many of the female drivers I met have had recent pay rises. A big potential negative of HGV driving is having to sleep in the vehicle on long journeys. Known in the trade as "tramping", it often happens in lorry parks, service stations and lay-bys.

High standards of  facilities, lighting and security are vital for all lorry drivers. Good quality over-night stopping places can become full, leaving drivers with little option but to park in less secure areas. 

Women drivers I've spoken to stress how important this is and, once again, its important that the industry listens to concerns.Many of my pre-conceptions about truckers were changed by my conversations with women drivers, the ones I spoke to greatly value the independence and variety of the job. 

Many of the lorry cabs are far more comfortable than I had imagined - with beds, fridges, stoves and microwaves. With their enthusiasm and good humour, these women are the best possible ambassadors for their trade.