Are We Sleepwalking into a Global Driver Shortage Crisis?

No matter where you’re reading this from, you’ll be surrounded by belongings that have seen the inside of a truck. Simply stated, trucks are the lifeblood of every national economy and international trade.

Boris Blanche

No matter where you’re reading this from, you’ll be surrounded by belongings that have seen the inside of a truck. Simply stated, trucks are the lifeblood of every national economy and international trade. In America, nearly 70 percent of consumer goods are delivered by trucks, while that number reaches 90 percent in other countries. In our multimodal/intermodal world, road transport is the first and last leg of almost every journey.

In countries across the globe there is a pervasive challenge to address: an acute shortage of commercial drivers.

Research from the American Trucking Associations (ATA) has shown that the U.S. has a shortage of some 50,000 drivers. A separate report also showed that the turnover rate of drivers for large trucking companies has reached 94 percent in the first quarter of 2018, marking a 20 percent annual increase.

The problem is only getting worse as online shopping increases and adds additional pressure to transportation services.

The burgeoning driver shortage is far from a problem confined to America, though. In both the U.K. and Germany, for example, there is an estimated shortage of 45,000 drivers. In some emerging markets such as Brazil, the figure is as high as 100,000.

Bus and coach transport are also increasingly affected, making driver shortage the number one issue for many companies, struggling to meet increasing mobility demands.

If left unresolved, there will be grave consequences. Transport operators and the wider public mobility and logistics industry will feel the effects. Ultimately, consumers will suffer when it comes to moving or paying for goods at the till. It’s an issue without a quick-fix solution, and one that risks getting worse if action isn’t taken now.

Prioritizing Driver Safety and Security

Truck driving is not easy work. It can involve long hours away from home, low salaries, insufficient safety and security, harassment and violence. The realities of life as a trucker are the reason many potential employees are put-off from signing up. Commercial drivers face tough safety and security challenges as they deliver and transport goods and passengers each and every day.

The industry needs to tackle issues regarding parking quickly. Many drivers have difficulty finding safe, secure places to rest overnight. In many countries we hear stories of drivers resorting to abandoned gas stations and industrial parking lots. In the EU it’s increasingly difficult for drivers to spend the night in the cab of their truck because of the lack of safe and clean spaces for them to rest.

Protecting a truck driver’s day to day safety is vital when recruiting. Globally, governments need to work together with businesses to establish – and sustain – minimum standards for driver safety and security.   

The Perception Gap

The mobility and trucking sectors today suffer from a perception gap. Driven in part by news around poor safety, security and working conditions, the industry lacks diversity with very few young and female employees. In the U.S., only 6 percent of truck drivers are women, whilst the average age of a commercial truck driver is 55 years old.

As autonomous or driver-assisted buses and trucks hit the roads and the headlines, there is a misconstrued concern among many that there is no future for jobs in the transport sector. The reality is quite different. Although driverless vehicles are coming, the transition will take time given increasing customer and logistics demands. Furthermore, technology is likely to change the nature of the work rather than erase it – requiring technology skills that may appeal to younger generations.

Attracting younger and more female employees is a must, but it might not be enough. As we enter the era of increased digitization we must take responsibility as an industry for attracting and retaining new demographics, with the necessary skill-sets for operating future commercial fleets.

Taking Action Now

In the meantime, we can take practical steps to address this. For instance, innovation in truck design is positive and should strive to make the work more accessible to a broader demographic. Similarly, the industry needs to redesign infrastructure and training environments to ensure all attendees feel at ease, regardless of their gender, age or background. In many countries truck drivers are not permitted to start their career until 21 years of age, forcing out many who would like to join the profession. Changing this will mean more young people can have the opportunity to become truck drivers.

Organizations, such as the Women in Transport EU Platform for Change, which strengthens female employment in the sector, can help to ensure equal opportunities for those looking to enter the trucking profession.

Finally, a joint effort is required from the public and private sectors to develop more ‘safe and secure’ parking areas that comply with well-defined standards. 

We have the privilege of working in an industry that is a critical building block for international trade. Road transport plays a crucial role in facilitating citizens’ mobility and economic growth, as well as allowing consumers access to the belongings that we cherish and enjoy every day. As an industry, we have a duty to promote and guarantee sustainable growth and the first step on that journey needs to be tackling the driver shortage challenge head on.

By working together to harness innovation, improve safety and guarantee security, we can have a positive impact in stemming the shortage of commercial drivers. Through an increased focus on widening the talent pipeline and reducing churn, we will see a robust future transport sector able to preserve the values and aspirations we share for our families, communities and livelihoods.