Brexit and Covid-fueled shortage of truckers means empty shelves and gasoline shortages

The U.K. is short tens of thousands of hauliers, as factors including Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic converge to create a supply-chain crunch. Officials urged motorists not to panic-buy petrol after BP and Esso shut a handful of stations because there were not enough trucks to get gas to the pumps.

“The advice would be to carry on as normal,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Friday.

The haulage industry warns that things are anything but normal, and is pressing the government to loosen immigration rules and recruit more drivers from Europe to avert Christmas shortages of turkeys and toys. The government is resisting that move, and scrambling to lure more British people into truck driving, long viewed as an underpaid and underappreciated job.

“Driving isn’t seen as a 21st-century sexy vocation,” said Laurence Bolton, managing director of the National Driving Centre, a family-owned school for truck drivers in the London suburb of Croydon.

But that is starting to change. Bolton’s school has seen a 20% increase in applicants since the U.K.’s pandemic restrictions eased earlier this year, with bus drivers, laid-off hospitality workers and even former airline pilots seeking to retrain as truckers, a suddenly in-demand and increasingly well-paid occupation.

“It opens up the opportunities,” said 31-year-old Stephen Thrower, who works as a van driver but is training on trucks. “It’s more of a job for life.”

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