For several years now, the problem of the shortage of lorry drivers has been acutely felt by transport professionals. The profession does not project an attractive image, but no doubt because the sector has not managed to reassert its value in its modern context. Suggestions.
The shortage of skilled truck drivers has been a reality for the transport sector in Europe for years and 2020 is not reversing the trend. Thus, even before the onset of the health crisis and its economic consequences, which are still difficult to quantify, the IRU (International Road Transport Union) had set out the scenario of a worsening driver shortage this year. According to several observers, Covid will further accentuate the problem.
The overall shortage of drivers will increase from 23% in 2019 to 36% this year (source: IRU). This trend has been confirmed in many European countries. Thus, in the same period, the shortage will increase from 22% to 37% in Poland and from 50% to 62% in Romania. The German organisation Fair Truck has established a figure that suggests 150,000 jobs will be vacant by 2022! In France, the Association de formation professionnelle du transport released a figure of 42,000 unfilled posts today. In the UK the FTA (now renamed Logistics) reported at the end of 2019 that there was a shortfall of 59,000 drivers. In Spain the shortage of professional drivers is of 20% (15.000 drivers) and will increase to 30% in one year, according to IRU and Fenadismer (Federación Nacional de Asociaciones de Transporte en España)
Shortage of drivers, an attractiveness issue
The reasons for the staff shortage are well-known, but remain difficult to overcome. First and foremost, the perceived drudgery of the job can keep candidates away (working hours, sometimes including night shifts, stress related to meeting deadlines and customer requests, the physical dimension of the job in loading/unloading areas, etc.).
For medium and long-distance transport, distance from home can also be mentioned as a blocking point in choosing this career, as well as the difficulty of reconciling work and family life. In addition, the image of the profession is rather negative. During the confinement in Europe, it must be said that the communication on the “hero” drivers, sentinels of the famous “front line”, did not really take off, even though it was a well-founded concept, particularly from the point of view of securing supplies.
Finally, the level of remuneration is considered low: the average salary of a truck driver in Europe is around 2,000 euros per month.
Thinking of multi-solutions to change the situation
To improve this situation which is becoming more and more pressing, it is essential to consider several solutions and to cross-reference them. The first objective is to enhance the image of the profession and better communicate the reality. Some of stereotypes are deep-rooted, while the safety and comfort of the vehicles have been considerably improved. Trucks are now better equipped; particularly in the cabs, for example improved sleeping space. The activity has been progressively automated, tending towards less restrictive freight charges as well. We also note that, for several years now, major efforts have been made to secure more and improved rest areas. Finally, truckers now work on logistics, customer relations and fleet optimisation, since they handle data, and therefore there are more career development prospects (pool manager, trainer, fleet management functions, etc.) than ever before.
Another short- to medium-term solution would be to adjust recruitment. It is estimated that only 3-4% of drivers in Europe are women. Moreover, the average age of truck drivers is around 40, a figure that is almost sufficient on its own to explain the shortage of drivers. This is then accelerated by retirements. Adapting recruitment campaigns to reach more women and younger age groups could have a positive impact. This approach has already proven successful in the United States.
Finally, complementary solutions should be considered. Autonomous trucks – vehicle self-sufficiency is currently making progress and the heavy-duty vehicle sector is at the forefront. Staff shortages would be temporarily solved and pooling and platooning arrangements could be deployed. We should note that this is a medium-term measure and that autonomous trucks are very expensive.