A fifth of driver positions unfilled in European road transport sector

The European road transport sector is facing the most acute professional driver shortage in decades, a new report by the International Road Transport Union (IRU) has found.

The report is based on insight from stakeholders across the European transport industry and drawn from two surveys conducted by IRU.

Polling of IRU members and associated organisations in Europe from October 2018 to January 2019 revealed a visible driver shortage of 21 per cent in the freight transport sector and 19 per cent in the bus and coach sector. The problem is accelerating, with the shortfall predicted to reach 40 per cent in both sectors as demand grows in 2019.

Boris Blanche, IRU’s Managing Director commented: “The transport industry needs to take immediate and decisive action to tackle the driver shortage. Left unchecked, it will have serious implications for the European economy and lead to rising costs for businesses, consumers and passengers.

“But there is no shortage of opportunity in this profession. In fact, our research found that job satisfaction tends to be high, with only 20 per cent of drivers surveyed expressing any dissatisfaction with their work.”

According to IRU’s research:

  • 57 per cent of male drivers and 63 per cent of female drivers believe the poor image of the profession is stifling recruitment.
  • 79 per cent of drivers believe the difficulty of attracting women to the profession is one of the top reasons for the driver shortage. This is underlined by data from the International Transport Forum, showing female drivers make up just two per cent of European road transport drivers.
  • 70 per cent of drivers aged 25-34 believe the difficulty of attracting young drivers is one of top reasons for the driver shortage.
  • Amongst drivers, 76 per cent believe that working conditions, and 77 per cent think long periods away from home deter many from entering the profession.
  • The industry also suffers from an ageing labour force. In Europe the majority of freight transport sector companies are employing drivers whose average age is 44 years old, while in the passenger transport sector the average age of their employed drivers is 52 years old.

Blanche continued: “A global effort must be made to address negative misperceptions and improve the image of the profession. At the same time, all industry stakeholders must act to improve working conditions in the sector. The treatment of drivers should be improved, with adequate and sufficient infrastructure and facilities provided.

“For industry to attract a new and diverse workforce, particularly increasing the employment of young people and women, a more inclusive recruitment policy must be put into place across the sector.”
To address these challenges, IRU has worked in close co-operation with its members to create an action plan of short, medium and long-term measures.

IRU has already taken steps, including the regular collection of solid company data, to find facts and monitor trends. It has launched a joint initiative with the European Shippers Council (ESC) to develop common principles aimed at improving the treatment of drivers at delivery sites. IRU has also established an expert group to address driver training legislation and its effectiveness.

IRU will set up a Women in Transport Network, aimed at increasing the number of women in the transport sector and their representation at all working levels as well as to promote transport as an attractive field for women to work in. It will contribute to incentives such as creating awards for female drivers and best performing companies in terms of recruitment, inclusiveness and retention.

Matthias Maedge, IRU’s General Delegate, warned: “Already the driver shortage is creating serious headaches for transport operators, impacting the people and businesses that rely on their services. Unfortunately, this is only set to worsen. We should not be fooled into thinking automation will solve this issue. There is still some way to go until the road transport industry sees full automation, and the partial adoption we are currently witnessing will require a sizeable workforce with an increasingly diverse skillset. This makes the need for decisive action to attract new talent all the more immediate.

“IRU has made the driver shortage one of its key priorities for 2019. We will work with public and private stakeholders such as national governments, local authorities, and social and industry partners to find solutions to address the impending crisis.”