Causes of a 'tipping point'
Data from a Cedefop report shows that despite annual fluctuations, employment levels in the truck driving industry slowly declined in the EU between 2018 and 2021 - from 8.55 million to 8.27 million.
Looking to the future, Cedefop predicts that the truck driving and vehicle operating market will have lost 43,800 job roles, with growth between 2022 and 2035 projected at -1.6% for the sector.
“Europe’s driver shortage crisis is accelerating rapidly, posing a major threat to the continent if nothing is done. The growing chasm between retiring and new drivers will triple by as early as 2026, resulting in a loss of over two million drivers and impacting half of all freight movements and millions of passenger journeys.”
Truckmobility's February 2023 findings help to highlight the issues of an ageing truck driving workforce:
- The average EU truck driver is 47 years old. In the UK, over a third (34%) are 55 or over - which means that a substantial percentage of the industry's drivers will be considering retirement within the next 10-15 years.
- In contrast, just 7% of the industry's drivers are under 25.
Number of heavy goods vehicle drivers in the UK between April 2020 and March 2021.
- 5,000 AGED 16-24
- 44,000 AGED 25-34
- 91,000 AGED 35-49
- 122,000 AGED 50-64
- 14,000 AGED 65 OR OVER
Without finding ways to lower the average age, there is a danger that we are only a decade away from the industry losing a large percentage of its workforce - with years of knowledge, expertise and experience.
The industry is shifting rapidly, with increasing demands and changing delivery types. Online orders are one of the fastest-growing demands, particularly food deliveries.
Statista calculated that there have been 239 million meal deliveries and 180 million grocery deliveries in Europe this year, with meal deliveries expected to reach 306.21 million by 2027.
A similar trend appears in the UK. There has been a rapid increase from 2017 onwards - with 39.2 million meal deliveries and 24.2 grocery deliveries in the UK in 2023. Statistics suggest these figures will grow to 50.6 million and 31.2 million by 2027.
Are potential drivers tempted to take on local delivery roles rather than driving a truck? Is this due to the industry's reputation, pay, conditions or safety?
“There has long been the challenge of retaining HGV drivers, and when you combine this with the challenges faced by Brexit and an increase in demand of delivery services since the pandemic, the industry naturally becomes unsustainable. If the number of new drivers decreases, and those leaving the industry continues to increase along with the demand, there will most certainly be a complete tipping point by 2033.”
Avoiding a 'tipping point'
While the statistics are worrying, it is encouraging to highlight the range of initiatives used, how successful they have been and what the next steps should be.
- The number of HGV drivers in employment is estimated to have fallen by 30,300 in the first quarter of 2022 - less of a reduction than in Q3 and Q4 2021, which saw falls of 44,000 and 49,000.
- 26,388 practical truck driving tests occurred in Q1 2022 - an increase of 43% compared with the same period in 2019.
UK GOVERNMENT ACTIONS
The UK government launched 33 actions to deal with the shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers in the UK.
- Apprenticeships and schemes to encourage new drivers
- Increasing the number of HGV examiners
- Suspending the HGV road user levy
- Launching a review into parking and facilities for HGV drivers.
But many of these actions have lapsed, and the government's continued support is crucial to back the growth and development of the truck-driving workforce, making the industry more accessible for new drivers.
Industry action must improve the truck driving experience and make it a more attractive career option. Here are some industry action initiatives that can prolong any impending tipping points:
- Invest in and subsidise training to onboard new drivers and improve the skills of existing drivers.
- Increase industry accessibility and make the industry more welcoming by actively supporting female drivers and minority groups to create a vast pool of drivers. In 2022, just 3% of truck drivers in the UK were women, although China (5%) and the US (8%) improved on this figure.
- Improve the driver experience by considering mental health, pay, and secure parking locations and facilities. Measures for improving work-life balance are vital for encouraging driver retention.
"As the UK emerged from the pandemic, a surge in online retailing, complemented by overall economic growth, spurred the demand for HGV drivers. The HGV industry is the unsung hero of the UK economy, with road freight responsible for transporting 98% of food and agricultural products."
"However, the industry faces an impending challenge as the majority of drivers are approaching retirement. The average age of professional HGV drivers in the UK lies between 50 and 64, emphasising the urgency to attract fresh young talent, and diversity too, with female drivers making up just 2% of UK drivers. One good initiative in recent years has been the Government’s Skills Bootcamp programme. It is available to current holders of a Category B (car) licence aged 19 or over. This is the kind of initiative we welcome, making a career as a professional HGV driver more accessible than ever."
"While the HGV driver shortage persists, recruitment initiatives may help to generate a sustained growth in new drivers, retention is also key. Fair wages, better driving conditions and safe parking are essential for avoiding a tipping point where the gap in skills and workers means the industry cannot meet demand."
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