Our ongoing driver shortage crisis: where to now?

Posted 15/04/2019 : By: Tim Ridyard

Within a shifting and increasingly challenging global framework, the European road transport sector is facing its most acute professional driver shortage in decades.’ (International Road Transport Union)

An updated review of the acute shortage of commercial drivers has taken place in 2018 and 2019 and is to be found in the IRU publication ‘Tackling driver shortage in Europe’ based on its IRU Road Map on Driver Shortage. The findings reiterate some already well-understood areas of concern but also contain some interesting deviations from the perceived view.

In the UK we know there is an ongoing driver recruitment and replacement issue that is not getting any better. It is estimated that the current UK shortage exceeds 50,000 jobs. The arguments as to the causes are well rehearsed: poor facilities, Driver CPC, long periods away from home etc. The sector is also highly dependent on a significant number of non-UK EU drivers (including those in warehousing and forklift work). Where will all the drivers come from? How can the shortage of drivers be stemmed and reversed?

Some facts:

  • in the UK the driver shortage is increasing at about 50 drivers per day
  • both goods (21%) and passenger (19%) sectors have a visible Europe-wide driver shortage
  • in Europe 300K fewer truck drivers were employed in 2015 than in 2008
  • the average professional driver age in Europe is 50 years old and this will increase
  • only 2% of the European driver population are female.

What are the main causes of the driver shortage?

The IRU report asked drivers from all over Europe to give their views that centred on five areas of concern.

Sector image

The report highlights one interesting outcome namely that younger drivers experience greater job satisfaction than older drivers (ones 45+ years old) – and 73% of those between 18 and 24 years of age were very or extremely satisfied. Further, half of Europe-wide drivers express were satisfied with their jobs. This was found to be interesting bearing in mind the public perception of working in this sector which is that it is less than desirable for various reasons.

Working conditions

The study found that generally drivers felt there was a need for better working conditions (security, good rest areas and better working hours) and spending long periods away from home was the reason for shortages of drivers to carry out long-distance work.

Attracting female drivers

In order to attract and keep women drivers better security and good rest areas (with safe sleeping areas, good food, separate toilets and showers) would assist. The report highlights that attracting more women would enhance sector image and reminds those reading the report that companies perform better when there is gender-balance.

An ageing workforce

The lack of balance in the demographics of drivers is set to worsen. The current average driver age is 50. This problem is in addition to the gender gap. (In the UK it is already well recognised that there are large numbers of driver who will leave the profession through age retirement, reluctance to renew their Driver CPC and for other reasons.)

Attracting young drivers

Notwithstanding high job satisfaction amongst younger drivers they are relatively few in number. Obstacles or causes of them going into other types of work include the age at which they can become a professional driver and the high cost of becoming licensed. The report concludes that social media should be harnessed for recruitment and that new technological developments e.g. automation may lead to a more diverse and different driver role in businesses in the future.

Addressing the shortage

The IRU concludes that there are three areas to be addressed to improve matters:

  • raising sector image and its public perception
  • having a coordinated approach in the supply chain to improve working conditions and better infrastructure/ facilities
  • attracting a new, young and diverse workforce.

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