Women and young people can help solve the HGV driver shortage

Land Transport

Source: Lloyd's Loading List, 2021-08-31

With a shortage of more than 400,000 Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers across Europe, adding them to the UK’s essential workers list will not necessarily bring in an influx of what the Road Haulage Association calls ‘oven-ready lorry drivers.’

Transport Intelligence’s latest research paper ‘European Driver Shortages’ says the most heavily impacted countries are Poland, the UK and Germany, with the UK especially affected because of European drivers leaving due to Brexit.

“The driver shortages have been affecting the global road freight market for around 15 years. The issue comes as the pool of truck drivers is contracting but demand for transport is rising. The Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the already alarming issue of driver shortages as new drivers have been unable to train and take their tests and Covid restrictions make the job even less attractive.”

The shortage in Poland is about 124,000 drivers, with both Germany and the UK needing at least 60,000 more drivers – and probably many more. France, Spain and Italy are also reporting growing driver shortages.

The report explains that opening borders to employees from Eastern European countries has helped, but only temporarily and as a result, operators have started looking for drivers from further and further East.

For example, some Polish agencies offer employment to drivers from Asian countries such as Bangladesh, India, Philippines and Vietnam. It can take around four to six months from the start of the recruitment process to arrival. It can be faster (one to three months) to employ foreign drivers from Central Asian and Caucasus countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia and Armenia.

There are some problems however, as the report outlines: “although this method can help boost the numbers of drivers, it can often come with human trafficking and exploitation concerns mainly due to the poor monitoring and lack of enforcement of relevant legislation across Europe.”

It has long been a problem that the pool of Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers is an ageing workforce. Obviously there are issues with making the job more attractive, but it is also not open to younger people who are looking for jobs.

The International Road Transport Union (IRU) has called on nations to agree on a global minimum age of 18 for professional truck drivers. One of the consequences of the pandemic has been soaring youth unemployment numbers, which IRU regards as a potential partial solution to the driver shortage issues.

There is variety when it comes to age requirements around the world. In the Middle East and some European countries, the minimum age is already 18. In many other countries the minimum age is 21 but can go up to 26 years of age in countries such as China and Turkey.

Even within the EU there are different age requirements and rules may even vary depending on whether or not the transport and journey is domestic or international. Such restrictive minimum age rules are a serious obstacle to young people joining the profession at a time when youth unemployment exceeds 30% in some countries.

Currently women account for 2-3% of drivers across Europe, according to the IRU. The report suggests that the “unattractiveness of the job means that only half of the recruitment pool is being utilised. The IRU is acutely aware of this issue and hopes to combat it through working with the European Commission as well as supporting its members to promote women in the industry. For example, a German member of the IRU recently employed a female ambassador to attract more women into the transportation sector.”

One organisation, the not-for-profit Women in Transport, is working to get more women into the industry. The European Commission has set up the ‘Women in Transport - EU Platform for change’, 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.

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