“The driver shortage in Europe is a real – and growing – threat.”
That’s the opinion of Boris Blanche, managing director of the International Road Transport Union (IRU), who also highlighted that the issue if affecting economic growth and the ability of the logistics sector to meet the needs of shippers.
According to research by the IRU, there was a driver shortage of 21% across the freight transport sector between October 20178 and January 2019. That equates to around one in five driver positions currently unfilled.
Speaking at the launch of a new IRU manifesto for road freight, Blanche explained: “If we do not solve the problem now, we will face shortages of goods and significant problems moving people around Europe.”
According to the IRU, the UK’s shortage is growing at a rate of 50 drivers a day. While in Germany, the average age of truck drivers is over 47, meaning around 40% of truckers are expected to retire by 2027.
Blanche highlights that the only way to address this issue is to improve the working conditions for drivers and increase the number of safe, secure truck parking spaces across Europe (currently just 300,000). There is also work to be done in changing the public perception of trucking in Europe as a way to attract a younger, more technically-skilled demographic of drivers.
The sector also needs to attract more women.
Currently, just 2% of truck drivers in Europe are female. As Blanche points out, women are put off entering the industry because of poor security, low-quality truck stop facilities, and a lack of healthy food options on driving routes.
Speaking about attracting younger recruits, Blanche said: “For many young people, the industry can be frustrating to get into in the first place.
“In many European countries, young people are directed to choose their preferred career paths by the age of 16. This is five years before they are old enough to start applying for a license to drive a large commercial vehicle
“Therefore, most young people have already embarked on alternative career paths before they reach the legal age to qualify as commercial drivers.”
A change in policy and driver training from the age of 16 (with drivers starting operations at 18) could help deal with this issue.
For some, the answer lies in technology. Embracing technology such as driverless trucks could help address some of the challenges facing Europe’s road transport community.
According to IRU research, 71% of European transport companies believe autonomous trucks will become a reality over the next decade. However, the infrastructure to make that work is still a long way off.
Blanche believes that “rather than replacing the role of the driver, it is more likely the effect of automation will be to allow current drivers to upskill.”
It’s essential that the industry tackles these problems at their source, dealing with public perception of the profession, improving working conditions, and combating the ageing workforce and lack of young and female drivers.