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Why Europe’s driver shortage isn’t just a personnel problem 

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By Stephan Sieber, CEO, Transporeon

It’s no secret that global supply chain disruption has dominated headlines since mid-2020. And, over the past three years, the continuing aftershocks of the COVID pandemic, combined with geopolitical factors and an economic downturn, have caused significant upheaval for shippers, cargo receivers, service providers, brokers, freight forwarders, carriers – and of course consumers.

Today, driver shortages in the road freight sector are threatening to cause further disruption. Catalysed by initial pandemic downtime – which saw many drivers leave the industry, take early retirement or extended sick leave – driver shortages are now a significant strain on supply chains. Especially given rising demand for road freight transportation.

A recent report by the world road transport body IRU revealed that there could be an eye watering two million unfilled driving positions in Europe by 2026 (already now there are around half a million unfilled positions in Europe).

In the UK, a drop in migration from Central and Eastern Europe caused by Brexit has further highlighted driver shortages where, according to the French transportation union FO Transports, the number of driving vacancies in France could currently be as high as 50,000. The situation is even worse in neighbouring countries where there are currently around 80,000 vacant driving positions in both Germany and Poland (IRU).

Transforming the ‘Great Retirement’ into greater opportunities

With a global recession looming, it’s widely believed that we’ll soon see an influx of candidates onto the job market. Though this may ease personnel shortages in some sectors, it’s unlikely to solve road freight driver shortages.

The primary reasons for this are demographic shifts leading to the ‘Great Retirement’. The same IRU report found that 30% of drivers are planning to retire by 2026 – outstripping any potential recession-related increases in driver availability. So, it’s clear that simply poaching drivers from elsewhere in the industry isn’t a long-term solution for companies.

The IRU also found that young people are joining the driver community in the road freight industry at a rate between four and seven times lower than drivers are retiring – with the average age for European drivers now over 50 years old.

Twentieth-century approaches won’t solve a twenty-first-century problem

The bottom line is that the European driver shortage is not just a personnel problem. Dwindling driver numbers would not present such a challenge if transport operations were smarter and more efficient. According to scientists at the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics, increasing the efficiency of US drivers by just 18 more minutes of active driving time per day could solve the country’s driver shortage. This claim was based on research in the US but pointed out that the same principle is likely to apply in Europe.

There’s a multitude of ways that companies can look to boost efficiency. But to do so, they must first understand where there’s room for improvement. More are now turning to solutions that offer real-time insights. This helps companies to uncover previously hidden inefficiencies (like empty runs and excessive waiting times in yards) and improve visibility by tracing deliveries.

Within the logistics industry, another trend we’re seeing is Autonomous Case-handling Robot systems (ACR) to reduce labour needs. Self-driving trucks are still a long way off in logistics transportation, but it is possible to make significant efficiencies within warehouses in loading and unloading processes, as well as automating time slot and yard management processes. But by implementing smart software, businesses can start to look to reduce waiting times for drivers from hours to minutes.


Ultimately though, enhancing the effectiveness of transport logistics depends on increasing collaboration between all participants, rather than companies simply working to optimise its own performance – as is currently often the case. Indeed, a recent survey of international supply chain experts revealed that the vast majority rate ‘increased collaboration between supply chain partners’ as both ‘highly probable’ and ‘highly desirable’ in the run-up to 2025.

When working collaboratively as part of a wider network, rather than in isolation, organisations can significantly streamline key processes such as freight sourcing, transport execution, dock scheduling, freight matching, payment and settlement.

Solving the UK and Europe’s road freight driver shortage can’t be done overnight. And, moving forward, companies should view this as an operational matter, rather than simply an HR or personnel problem. The solution lies in adopting a network approach and collaborative solutions that focus on finding new efficiencies.

With the unique approach of combining automation, real-time insight, and collaboration, a transportation management platform can alleviate the driver shortage, reducing empty miles, eliminating unnecessary dwell times and optimising yard operations – the integral intersection between the road and the warehouse.

Roger Bullivant Ltd gains massive benefit from Lightfoot

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Using Lightfoot’s industry-leading driver rewards platform, Roger Bullivant Ltd  has vastly reduced instances of poor or dangerous driving, significantly reduced vehicle idling by 7% and increased MPG by 8%, directly resulting in fuel savings worth thousands of pounds per month. 

Impressed by the impact that the in-cab device, app and rewards platform has had on its drivers, Roger Bullivant Ltd recommended that the technology was installed to commercial vehicles used by other Soletanche Freyssinet Group companies including Bachy Soletanche, Sixense Limited and Vibro Menard.

To read more about the partnership and how Lightfoot can help your fleet, click here.

Professional drivers in short supply, says IRU

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

The European road transport sector is facing the most acute professional driver shortage in decades.

That’s the conclusion of a report by the International Road Transport Union (IRU), based on insight from stakeholders across the European transport industry and drawn from two surveys.

The data revealed a visible driver shortage of 21% in the freight transport sector and 19% in the bus and coach sector.

The problem, the report says, is accelerating, with the shortfall predicted to reach 40% in both sectors as demand grows in 2019.

The key finings include:-

  • 57% of male drivers and 63% of female drivers believe the poor image of the profession is stifling recruitment.
  • 79% 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 2% of European road transport drivers .
  • 70% of drivers aged 25-34 believe the difficulty of attracting young drivers is one of top reasons for the driver shortage.
  • Amongst drivers, 76% believe that working conditions, and 77% 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.

Boris Blanche, IRU’s Managing Director, said: “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% of drivers surveyed expressing any dissatisfaction with their work.

“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.”