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IRU Exclusive: Driver shortages a ‘real and growing threat’

Caption: Boris Blanche, managing director of the International Road Transport Union; Image: IRU/Shutterstock/Jim Allen

The shortage of truck drivers in Europe is now placing a ceiling on economic growth and the ability of the logistics sector to meet the needs of shippers, according to Boris Blanche, managing director of the International Road Transport Union.

“The driver shortage in Europe is a real – and growing – threat,” he told FreightWaves in part one of a two-part interview.

Speaking as the IRU launched a new manifesto for road freight, Blanche said polling of IRU members and associated organizations in Europe from October 2018 to January 2019 had revealed a driver shortage of 21% across the freight transport sector.

“According to research we carried out earlier this year, roughly one in five driver positions are currently unfilled,” he said. “If we do not solve the problem now, we will face shortages of goods and significant problems moving people around Europe.”

Key markets

According to the IRU, the U.K.’s shortage of truckers is growing at a rate of 50 drivers per day, while in Germany the average driver’s age is now over 47, meaning that some 40% of truckers are expected to retire by 2027, when it is estimated that there will be a total driver shortfall of around 185,000.

In Norway, trucking companies estimate their demand for drivers will increase by 12% this year. Combined with the 22% vacancy rate identified in 2018, this will increase the country’s shortage to around 35%.

Blanche believes the Europe-wide driver shortage can be alleviated if stakeholders across the transport sector – including policy makers and operators – come together to tackle the problem at source.

“In particular, there is a need to focus on improving the working conditions for drivers,” he said. “For instance, Europe currently only has 300,000 truck parking spaces, of which only a fraction offer basic services and security levels.

“Another 100,000 safe and secure truck parking areas must be built across Europe to provide acceptable working conditions and places to rest for truck drivers.”

The second challenge is the public perception of trucking in Europe. According to IRU research, 57% of male drivers and 63% of female drivers believe the poor image of the profession is stifling recruitment. “Stakeholders across the sector must work together to attract a new demographic – younger, more technically skilled people, and a greater number of women,” said Blanche.

Gender challenge

Indeed, at present women make up just 2% of European drivers. “The primary concerns preventing potential candidates from entering the industry include low security and poor-quality rest facilities, as well as a lack of healthy food options along driving routes,” he said. “Tackling these challenges, such as providing better quality rest areas, will help to make the job more appealing to a much wider demographic.”

Access to a career in trucking must also be made easier at a younger age. “For many young people, the industry can be frustrating to get into in the first place,” he said. “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.

“Policymakers must consider changing this and allow training as a driver to start at 16 and drivers to start operations at 18. The industry should also offer financial support to trainee drivers where possible, as the costs can be extremely high.”

Technology can help

Blanche believes the embrace of technology can help address some of the driver challenges facing Europe’s road transport community. “Driverless trucks have the potential to be transformative for the road transport industry,” he told FreightWaves. “IRU research shows that 71% of European transport companies believe autonomous trucks will be a reality on our roads within the next 10 years, but the full infrastructure required to accommodate them is not yet in place, meaning there is still some way to go.

“Rather than replacing the role of the driver, it is more likely the effect of automation will be to allow current drivers to upskill.”

However, much like immigration from countries with excess labor, automation is not a sustainable solution to the driver shortage. “Instead, the industry must come together to tackle the problems at their source, including improving public perception of the profession and working conditions, and combating the ageing workforce and lack of young and female drivers,” he added.

He is more sceptical when it comes to the potential benefits of load-matching tools. “While extensive developments are being made in enhancing technology to greater match loads and capacity, this is not a long-term solution to the driver shortage,” he added.

In its new manifesto, the union notes that road transport accounts for 5.7% of global employment, and in Europe, drives revenue of around €500 billion ($552 billion) and provides five million jobs. Despite this, trucking faces multiple challenges apart from driver shortages, including geopolitical unrest, climate change concerns and digitalization.

In the manifesto, the IRU encourages governments to revise transport policies with modal cooperation, to set appropriate rules for professional driver requirements and to define a harmonized framework for better data access and governance.

“Trade remains the driving force behind international prosperity and demand for road transport is only increasing,” said IRU Secretary-General Umberto de Pretto. “Our job at IRU – and the purpose of our new manifesto – is to bring together governments, public authorities and businesses at the global, national and local levels to ensure that everyone in the industry has a voice and works together for mutual benefit and progression.”
FreightWaves articles by Mike

One Comment

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