The International Road Transport Union (IRU) is predicting a worsening of the shortage of drivers in Europe in 2019: 40% of job offers are unlikely to be filled, compared with 21% in 2018. Attracting female drivers and younger talent appear as key factors to cope with the current situation.
"Alarmingly short supply" is the unambiguous diagnosis of Boris Blanche, Managing Director of IRU (International Road Transport Union), as he referred to the recruitment challenges faced by the Road Transport industry. 20% of job vacancies in the industry were not filled in 2018. This figure might grow to 40% in 2019, and even to 70% in Romania. "The driver shortage will not only affect transport operators but the entire supply chain mobility and, ultimately, society as a whole. It could lead to a disrupted economy and higher prices for consumers",according to an IRU report released in March 2019.
The IRU has made this a priority for 2019. A dedicated task force has been created in order to implement an action plan. Furthermore, several surveys were carried out in 2018 to assess the scale of this challenge and its root causes. These surveys will continue to be carried out so as to expand the data, notably in France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Romania and Poland.
First observation: the industry is having difficulty in attracting candidates, but the ones who take the plunge are quite satisfied with their situation. According to the IRU report, 50% of actively employed drivers stated “that they are very or extremely satisfied with their work”. This is even truer for younger drivers who are starting out in their careers (73% for the 18-24 year-old bracket). Conversely, 20% of drivers expressed dissatisfaction.
Second observation: automation, which should substantially modify the industry in the future, could help reduce these difficulties, but not on a significant scale. Especially as it is expected that there will be a large number of retirements that will occur over the next few years. In Germany, 40% of drivers are expected to retire between now and 2027 and so worsening the driver shortage by 185,000.
Attracting young people and women
In this context, the main challenge consists of attracting new people to the profession, starting with young people. The IRU points out that the legal age to become a truck driver in many countries is 21 and this limit could be a hinderance that may need to be relaxed. Many young people are required to choose their career paths much earlier on (for example in Germany it is between 16 and 17 years-old). The high cost of obtaining the driving license is also a major issue for youngsters.
Moreover, the road transport industry would do well to make use of new technologies. Firstly, by using social media to attract potential candidates. Then, by turning the spotlight on the technological revolution in the industry as a means to seduce new profiles. "Too often today, digital technology is considered more as a constraint rather than a source of improvement", is the analysis of William Béguerie, road transport expert at Upply.
Also the IRU insists on the necessity of implementing a system of regular professional skills training to attract and retain drivers.
The organization identifies another lever to tackle this shortage: attracting female drivers. Today, only 2% of drivers are female drivers… William Béguerie suggests that “beyond being a means of resolving the lack of drivers, feminization must be considered as an objective. This is because it will be the sign of a substantial improvement in working conditions.”
Improving working conditions
As such, the IRU report concludes that apart from exploring these talent pools, improving working conditions in road transport would be beneficial to the industry.
According to the study carried out by the organization, 87% of drivers over 55 and 73% of drivers under 25 indicated that being required to spend long periods away from home was critical to explaining driver shortage in long-distance transport. The European Commission has addressed this particular subject with the vote of the Mobility Package which would impose the return of drivers to their home every 4 weeks.
The safety and comfort of rest areas remain one of the major preoccupations. In this area also the European Union has addressed the problem by launching a dedicated working group on the safety of truck parking areas in Europe.