Of all the UK’s business sectors, the transport industry is probably facing the biggest skills shortage and urgently needs to recruit 45,000 drivers.

In an effort to address the issue, the Road Haulage Association, together with Close Brothers Asset Finance and TRS Training Ltd have launched a ground-breaking programme to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), companies with less than 20 vehicles, recruit young drivers to secure the skills they need for future growth.

Through the ‘RHA/Close Brothers SME Apprentice Scheme – 20/20’, Close Brothers Asset Finance will fund half of the new recruits’ wages during the first six months and a quarter in the second. This means that the selected SMEs won’t have to cover the full cost of employing the apprentices until they are qualified and making a positive contribution to their business.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “The average age of an HGV driver is 55 years. Many are retiring and not enough are coming through the system to replace them. It costs approximately £4k for a young person to get their Cat 1 HGV licence but too few young drivers have access to the funding needed and many smaller operators simply cannot afford to take on apprentice drivers. This scheme will go a long way to providing 20 companies with the funding they need to give them and the industry they service a real boost.

One apprentice, 18-year-old Bailey Smith, said: “I’ve always wanted to be an HGV driver but simply didn’t have the money. Being part of the 20/20 scheme means that I can finally achieve my ambition.”

John Fawcett, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance Transport division, said: “We know from our work with transport SMEs that many would like to take on apprentices, but they are worried about the cost, time, and resource involved. We believe this one-year initiative will provide genuine financial to support smaller companies and represents an excellent means of addressing the driver shortage.”