Road transport operators on the front line as driver shortages and skills gaps worsen

Truck driver shortages are expected to increase in 2021 by over a quarter on 2020 levels in almost all of the 23 countries surveyed in IRU’s recent global survey of road transport firms.

Gaps are set to increase at a much higher rate in some countries, including by 150% in Spain, 175% in Mexico and 192% in Turkey. For passenger transport, unfilled bus and coach driver positions in Europe are forecast to jump by a huge 226% in 2021.

Almost 40% of road transport operators surveyed cite skills gaps as the number one cause of driver shortages, in markets as diverse as the Czech Republic, Norway and Romania to Russia, Ukraine and Mexico. 

This puts skills gaps well ahead of all other factors including poor image of the sector, difficult working conditions and the challenge of attracting young people and women into the profession.

As the global economy is expected to pick up in 2021, transport operators and shippers are increasingly facing issues stemming from driver shortages, such as increasing costs, operational difficulties and unhappy clients. 

“The driver situation this year is worse than normal, as many senior drivers stopped working last year to avoid catching COVID-19, training centres were closed and others left the profession due to the challenges and barriers imposed on them to work,” said Umberto de Pretto, IRU Secretary General. 

“As we look beyond the pandemic, many operators will find it impossible to find drivers to meet future customer demand.”

Staying competitive

While 2020’s dip in transport demand due to the pandemic is largely to blame for the higher than normal spike in shortages in 2021, the root cause across most markets remains skills, as it has done in recent years.

Road transport firms are already dedicating significant resources to identify, hire and develop drivers and make them operate in compliance with industry safety and professional standards. 

“There’s no silver bullet, but one of the most important things for companies to get it right is to make sure their drivers and workers have the right skills and efficient solutions to identify the gaps and address them when and where needed.” added Patrick Phillipp, IRU Director of Certification and Standards. 

According to World Economic Forum research, 50% of the global workforce will need reskilling by 2025. With time short and competition high, operators need to act quickly. 

There are new ways for companies to manage talent that go well beyond the traditional one- size-fits-all training solutions that are at best outdated, and at worst costly and counter-productive.