No matter where you look – Europe, Britain, the U.S., China, India…, the story is the same: Truck drivers are a fast-shrinking pool of employees. The average age of European drivers is 53-55 years; over in the U.S., it is 49. The percentage of drivers under the age of 30 varies from 2-8% depending on the country. Women and young people are logical target groups – so how to attract them?
In Germany, alone, around 40% of today’s drivers are due for retirement in 2027. In other words: five years from now, if nothing is done to the contrary, Germany is faced with almost half of the number of drivers it has today. Pit that against a booming e-commerce market, an annual gap of around 80,000 drivers, and a minority of circa 100 people per year who voluntarily pay for their own HGV license and training, and even someone who is incredibly poor at math can see that it will never add up to a positive result.
Exacerbated by the war
This is not a new problem. Driver shortages have been called out since the economic boom in the late 1990s and have become progressively worse. Yet, the battering in recent years is driving the issue to its pinnacle. Brexit began causing major problems with massive queues and delays of European trucks in the UK even before it fully came into effect. The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns spelt disaster for the trucking industry; drivers faced inhumane conditions as many motorway stations and facilities were closed, and virus infections and quarantine measures put even more of a strain on the already fragile situation. Now, since Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine, more than 100,000 Ukrainian drivers, who made up significant percentages of European trucking company workforces, have had to return to defend their country, while Russia (which had a 24% shortfall of drivers in 2021), decimates a significant portion of its own new generation through its actions. Not to mention the ensuing fuel crisis which is further exacerbating truck operations.
Is there a future in the job?
With all the technological developments going on, it is just a matter of time before driverless vehicles remove the shortage problem altogether. And they will largely halve driver costs and improve efficiency, given that human drivers are limited in their legal shift hours, whilst driverless vehicles can operate much longer hours. Sounds good, does it not? Yet, it will be many years yet before driverless trucks become the norm. CFG reported on TuSimple, “the world’s first and only Autonomous Freight Network (AFN)” back in JUL20, which aspired to having its network established by 2024. It has meanwhile been joined by a few other companies working in the same direction, but progress remains very slow, since it also necessitates that highway regulations are completely rewritten to accommodate autonomous vehicles. Aside from all that, the technology, which does not function well in adverse weather, requires much fine-tuning. Though the U.S. Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, pointed to “meaningful developments” in autonomous vehicle policy within this decade, this only affects the U.S. Europe is looking to the 2030s.
Women behind the wheel
So, the gap still needs filling by humans in the interim. Long hours, relatively poor pay, a trigger for several bad health issues – trucking does not enjoy the best reputation. Yet, it is a job that can be carried out by women just as well as men. However, only 1% of all truckers in the UK are women. The U.S. boasts around 10% today, having grown from 3% in 2009, while mainland Europe sees around a 2-3% share. Reality TV shows such as Lorry Ladies in the UK, or the more unfortunately named [ergo: sexist] “Trucker Babes” equivalent in Germany and Austria, have been doing their bit since 2017/2018 to illustrate the everyday discrimination and misconceptions that women in this industry are faced with, but also promote the job to a wider audience. Whether these series have attracted more women to the industry is questionable – the main viewer group is male and aged between 30 and 49. European truck companies would do well to look to the U.S. to see what methods they employed to attract more women to industry over the past decade.
What about young people?
There are a number of obstacles that young people who aspire to a career in trucking, face. The first isone that long has been under discussion: the age limit. For most heavy goods vehicles, drivers have to be over the age of 21. Generally, 7.5-ton-trucks can be driven from the age of 18. Yet, young people cut out for a job as a truck driver, usually already leave school at 16. So, what schould they do in the interim? The industry needs to come up with an attractive scheme to attract and retain young people. And that scheme should also address the second major issue, which is the cost of training as a driver and acquiring an HGV license. This usually lies in the region of €3,000.
A hefty investment, therefore, for someone who is just starting out. Yet perhaps the initial barrier the industry faces and why it struggles to recruit young people, is that the new generations are mostly unaware of the industry in first place.
What is your company doing to get itself talked about? Suggestions are offered in a second article “Attracting young talent to the world of trucking”, where a media expert shares
his advice to the logistics industry.
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