Where have all the truckers gone?

Analysis: Truck driver shortage is a global problem ignored and allowed to fester for years

Anyone looking at media coverage of the UK recently could be forgiven for thinking that the UK’s truck driver shortage is a direct result of the pandemic and the dreaded Brexit. But the shortage of HVG drivers is by no means a new problem or even a problem limited only to the UK. The truck driver shortage is, in fact, a global problem that has been ignored and allowed to fester for years.

The average age of heavy truck drivers in the UK is 53, with just one in 50 drivers under the age of 25, and many are expected to retire soon. In Ireland, the average age of a heavy truck driver is 48, as in the United States. Kris Kristofferson’s 1978 film Convoy has undoubtedly played a role in motivating many middle-aged truck drivers to decide to spend their lives on the road.

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Break a-nine, here comes the rubber duck

But a lot has changed both in the road network and in the heavy goods vehicle since Rubber Duck and his friends first appeared on our screens. The interior of a modern truck is a very pleasant environment with advanced technology and ergonomics. In recent decades, however, there appears to be very little desire or motivation among young people to choose a career as a heavy truck driver. Why is it?

Heavy truck drivers are largely a disenfranchised workforce, in which drivers typically spend many days and hours away from their families, especially in long-distance transport. In addition, it offers a less than healthy working environment. Because drivers spend many hours a day sitting in the cab of their vehicles, many develop poor eating habits and have few opportunities for physical exercise.

Is it any wonder that the industry is facing a major challenge?

The collective result of these far from ideal working conditions is borne by the truck driver. Around the world, diabetes, heart disease and musculoskeletal problems are more common among heavy truck drivers than in most other careers. All of these factors come with poor pay and a general feeling of disrespect. For example, some large companies specify a narrow time slot for their delivery and will refuse truck drivers if they arrive outside that window.

They also make them wait in their yard sometimes for hours after the vehicle has checked in, not even allowing the driver to use their toilet. Is it any wonder that the industry faces a major challenge as many drivers in their 40s and 50s leave the industry and are not replaced by enough people in their 20s and 30s?

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From RTÉ Six One News, how a shortage of truck drivers led to the closure of gas stations in the UK

As with all complex problems, there are no quick fixes or magic wands to address the global driver shortage. The UK’s lifting of visa restrictions to attract drivers from the EU is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. The point is, there is a global shortage of HVG drivers and unless we start granting visa restrictions to alien truck drivers, this approach will not solve the problem.

A recent study conducted by the School of Management at TU Dublin in collaboration with the Freight Transport Association Ireland, provides theoretical and practical knowledge on what is needed to attract and retain a sustainable workforce of drivers to maintain services transport. Some of the findings included

– Several aspects of the job of a heavy truck driver can be identified as issues that negatively influence retention. The degree of respect accorded to drivers in all aspects of their duties, the perceived status of driving roles, the inadequate level of facilities provided to drivers, and the operational burdens frequently encountered can all be seen as barriers to the creation of working conditions. rewarding functioning.

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime, Ttansport Tory MP and Qualified Fleet Manager Andrew Bridgen on the UK Truck Driver Crisis

– A lack of opportunities for progression and advancement discourages potential entrants. In addition, the increased emphasis on regulation was also noted as an aspect making the role less attractive than it was before. Both are areas open to improvement.

– A reallocation of resources from the sector to better educate drivers on some of the soft skills needed to take care of their own physical and mental health would be beneficial. Such a move would show greater industry-wide consideration for the well-being of drivers, recognizing the important, and often taxing, role that drivers play in the transport of goods. The method of recruiting drivers must be reviewed and the system must be more professional, with possibilities for career development.

– Although a professional driver’s certificate has been introduced in recent years, it is a very broad program, which is not tailored to the needs of a specific operator and pays little more than empty talk about the well-being of the driver.

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From LBC’s James O’Brien Show, EU carriers find UK visa proposal “quite amusing”

– A modification of the salary structure according to the training and qualifications acquired would also be beneficial. It would also have a positive effect on public perception of the professional sector.

– Clear and measurable training guidelines and qualifications would professionalize this profession and make it much more attractive to new entrants. Training, education and development are essential for having a well-informed, well-educated and dynamic workforce that feels empowered and recognized for the role it plays. Conducting apprenticeship programs would also be extremely beneficial in creating a sustainable workforce.

Indeed, a driver learning program is already underway with the Institute of Technology Sligo as the coordinating supplier as well as a consortium of key industry players and employers. The first group of apprentices will take a two-year level six course in January 2022.

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According to ITV’s This Morning show, only 1% of truck drivers are women, so what does it take to get more of them behind the wheel?

There is also a huge gender imbalance in driving HVG. In the UK, only between 1% and 3% of truckers are women, with a similar or lower number across the world. At the LRN 2020 conference, Yvonne Sheehan outlined what needs to change to get more women interested in considering HVG driving as a career option. She identified the following dominant concerns of heavy truck drivers in Ireland;

– Adaptability and flexibility in terms of working hours to achieve an acceptable work-life balance

– Lack of facilities for women

– Negative attitudes, abuse and ill-treatment described as discrimination based on sex

– Sexual harassment increases the vulnerability of female drivers

– The attitude towards female drivers makes a career very stressful

– Indicates the need for better understanding for all stakeholders

– Assist in the elimination of gender discrimination and encourage a larger pool of driver resources for the industry

We also have to ask ourselves why it took a pandemic, and the prospect of empty shelves, to consider the vital role of the truck driver. The public and the supply chain industry need to change their perception of the engine and realize that the supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I don’t see autonomous heavy goods vehicles making our deliveries in our cities and towns so soon!


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ


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About Julie Gray

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