Europe’s Truck Driver Shortage: Why it’s Going to Get Worse Before it Gets Better

Europe has long been short on truck drivers, but the pandemic has pushed that shortage to crisis levels. As a result, supply chains across the continent are stretched thin by delayed shipments and reduced overland transport capacity. And the knock-on effects from the HGV (heavy goods vehicle) driver shortage have awakened governments, firms, and the public to the vital role these workers play in the economy at large.

The UK reaches a tipping point

The UK, which already had Europe’s most severe truck driver shortage before the pandemic, has been especially hard hit. The fallout from lockdowns compounded by new Brexit regulations has left the country short of 100,000 HGV drivers and wreaked havoc on its supply chains.

Last year, European drivers went home after lockdowns went into effect, and many have yet to return. Some have taken advantage of skyrocketing demand for HGV drivers in other European countries and found work there. But many others are unable to return thanks to new, more restrictive immigration laws and the UK’s exit from the Schengen Area. In addition to the hurdles for existing drivers, a backlog of nearly 40,000 HGV tests is making it difficult for new ones to get behind the wheel.

The British government’s recent attempt at patching the problem by issuing temporary visas for drivers created little enthusiasm among drivers. Many of them are now enjoying their pick of jobs on the European mainland, where a growing HGV driver shortage has firms and governments wringing their hands.

Europe has a long road ahead

While images of empty shelves and long lines at petrol stations in the UK dominate the headlines, the truck driver shortage isn’t exclusive to Britain. Experts warn that continental Europe is currently short of 400,000 HGV drivers — with Poland, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain leading the numbers.

HGV drivers have long been in low supply in Europe for the same reasons as in the UK. The long hours and time away from home that the job demands mean that the pool of candidates willing to enter the profession is already slim. Add with low wages and poor working conditions, and the result is a job that few are willing to accept.

The crisis throughout Europe is not yet as severe as it is in the UK or the US. Still, the current situation in both countries should serve as a warning sign of what’s to come if swift action isn’t taken by shipping firms, the road transport industry, and governments.

The sector’s low pay and dismal working conditions deter workers — especially younger ones — from taking these jobs and pushing existing drivers to seek work elsewhere. The replacement rate of aging European truck drivers is not enough to keep up with the demand. The clock is ticking on the road transport industry to find solutions.

Avoid supply chain snags with streamlined distribution networks

Shippers should expect the situation to worsen before it improves. As wages rise, interest from newcomers in entering the profession may increase, and retention of existing drivers will improve. But training and recruiting new drivers will take time. And the industry has a long road ahead to clean up its image and attract more workers.

In the meantime, shippers should take stock of how they’re managing their distribution networks. The use of load consolidation, milk runs, and longer supply chains will allow for better integration of increased transit times. CTSI-Global’s dashboards can help firms identify load consolidation opportunities to streamline their distribution networks. In addition, shippers looking to limit their exposure to the supply chain’s snags will benefit from a tool like Honeybee TMS™ to identify better, more efficient sources for raw materials.

Contact us today and get the right tools to navigate this and every other shipping challenge.