Who will carry our goods a.k.a. how to deal with the shortage of drivers

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The market is suffering from the lack of drivers. A recent "Talent Shortage" survey, carried out by ManpowerGroup, indicates that this profession is the fifth most wanted by employers all over the world. Europe, including Poland, is not an exception here. So how to avoid paralysis in transportation of goods under these circumstances?

The scale of the shortage is alarming. Already in 2009 the European Parliament estimated 3.8% shortage of drivers within the EU borders. According a PwC report, by 2023, the German market will be 150,000 truck drivers short, the British markets needs 50,000 right now, whereas Poland needs over 100 thousand such professionals! This has been confirmed by surveys carried out among transport companies which show that on average that want to employ 20% more drivers than now.



Unfortunately there are no perspectives for increasing their number in the nearest future. Data provided by the French government say that between 2007 and 2009, 84% of professional drivers were 30 years old and over. Just 25 years back this group accounted for 72% of the total. Research commissioned by ZF Friedrichshafen shows that 40% of truck drivers in Germany will retire within 10 years. This means that during that period 250,000 of drivers will disappear from the job market! Naturally, they are replaced by new ones, but the pace is not sufficient to fill in the growing gap. It is estimated that in the next decade young drivers will fill in only 25,000 vacancies in Germany.

Similar trends are visible in most countries of Europe. Those which accessed the European Union in the 21st century are a little different. Over there the number of drivers is growing, yet at a pace too slow to satisfy even the needs of the local businesses. In Poland, approximately 35 thousand people obtain preliminary qualifications each year. Around 25 thousand drivers leave the profession in the same period. So there is no chance to quickly eliminate the deficit of drivers in our country, especially that some of them opt for better paid jobs in German companies.



Many people decide not to become drivers or they give up the job (PwC survey shows that 20% of the drivers think about doing it soon) because they realize that the earnings do not compensate very demanding job and its specific mode.

A problem is also the high entry barrier for this profession. In Poland, the cost of trainings and exams required to take on the job oscillates between PLN 9,800 and 12,300 whereas the average salary in 2015 was PLN 4,121! The costs are lower in Great Britain when compared with average remuneration (they are about 3,000 pounds), however both the Road Haulage Association and the Ministry of Finance point to them as one of the key reason deterring young people (below 21) from entering the profession.  The cost of obtaining qualifications is the highest for them although at the same time they would not have the same problem with the inconveniences connected with staying away from home like the older drivers, who in most cases already have families.

Insufficient influx of young people into the profession is still being explained by the quick ageing of the society and the unattractive image of the career path. Local problems also play their part. Poland may suffer from the shortage of drivers because of the downsized vocational education in the recent years (however it is gradually changing - 29 classes for drivers-mechanics were launched in 2016) This situation was also influenced by the abolition of general draft into the Army. Compulsory military service offered a chance for many young people to obtain qualifications as a driver for free.



Employing workers from the East may be a chance to increase the number of drivers in the European Union. This trend is clearly visible (at present Polish companies employ twice more Ukrainians and Belarusians than a year ago). Nevertheless their supply is not unlimited and the complicated administrative procedures (e.g. they need to pass qualifying tests in a foreign language) do not make it easy to solve the problem.

The European Union member states are trying to increase the number of drivers using legal mechanisms aimed at increasing the competitiveness of local transport companies and their appeal for potential employees.  More and more countries are implementing mandatory minimum wage for drivers (like MiLoG in Germany or Loi Macron in France) and the EU regulations on posted workers are being tightened. Nevertheless, these actions still haven't brought expected results.

The deficit of drivers in Europe is growing and it seems hard to avoid. Therefore it is worth thinking about the change of transport structure in order to minimise the demand for drivers. The strong promotion of intermodal transport by the European Union in the recent years (by 2030, 30% of goods in the EU are to be transported in this manner, 50% in 2050) is not just about being ecological. This is one of few ways to deal with the shortage of drivers.



For several years now, during all transport conferences, we have been hearing that rail is the future.  Already now many of our customers, who regularly transport cargo to and from Spain, go for intermodal solutions. The arguments for intermodal are economic above all: the guaranteed stability of rates during one calendar year, no impact of the fuel mechanism and the continuous availability of the means of transport. It is of great importance on the Iberian Peninsula because of the large share of fruit in transport. They require extensive transport labour in a very short time. Consequently, road transport rates in the fruit season are outrageously high and the availability of trucks is minimal. So it is not surprising that many customers opt for the more predictable rail.

At present, door-to-door delivery time on this line is 9 and 11 days for Barcelona and Madrid accordingly.  However we are still working on shortening this time. We know that transport costs play an important role but the duration in which the capital, i.e. goods, is frozen, is equally significant, and this largely increases the value of time in transit. A vicious circle appears: the customer does not choose the service due to delivery time and consequently the operator does not have enough cargo to afford to open a direct connection.  If, however, it was possible to launch it using the joint efforts of businesses interested in transport of goods and the logistics operator, it would benefit everyone in the form of a very cost-attractive and quick service.

We already know that the opening of a new direct connection with Spain will shorten delivery time to Barcelona and Madrid to 4 and 6 days accordingly. Intermodal connections will definitely not solve the problem of the shortage of drivers in Europe. Road transport will always be necessary, which means continuous demand for drivers. However, already today we should think about shifting some of the cargo from roads to intermodal solutions and then the companies which choose to do so will not suffer so much from the poor availability of drivers.

Aleksandra Kocemba

Aleksandra Kocemba

Intermodal Transport Manager

Intermodal Transport Manager at Raben Transport. Works in logistics since 2008. Author of many publications about intermodal transport.


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