Geneva: The Spanish road transport sector is facing a profound shortage of drivers, according to figures released today by IRU, the world road transport organisation.

A survey conducted by IRU among 202 truck, bus and coach companies from across the country, revealed the current shortfall of drivers stands at 20%, meaning one in every five positions is currently unfilled. This data mirrors a broader survey IRU conducted throughout Europe in March 2019, which showed a similar trend across several countries including the UK, Germany, Belgium, Norway and Romania.

In Spain, the acute shortage looks set to escalate in the coming years, with IRU’s figures showing demand for drivers is set to increase by 18% by 2020. Coupled with recruitment into the industry stalling, this means the driver shortage could reach 30% within one year if not addressed immediately.

Esther Visser, Manager of Social Affairs, IRU, commented: “The situation in Spain is part of a wider trend we are seeing across Europe. There are simply not enough drivers to meet demand and the problem is accelerating rapidly as experienced, older professionals leave the industry and are not being replaced in large enough numbers. This is one of the most urgent issues facing the road transport industry, which is a lifeblood of Spanish mobility and the economy. If we do not reverse the tide soon there will be knock-on effects on our capacity to move goods and people around the country, which will impact many millions of people, businesses and communities.”

What’s causing the driver shortage?
Currently in Spain, the minimum age to become a bus driver is 24 years old, while in other European countries (such as Belgium) young people can enter the profession as early as 18 years old.

IRU’s research shows that today, female drivers make up just 3% of the country’s commercial driver workforce, and young people (aged 25 and under) make up just 5%. Operators are struggling to diversify: the average Spanish professional driver is now 46 years old and male. In the passenger transport sector specifically, the issue is even more critical, driven in part by the inflexibility of domestic Spanish rules meaning coach drivers must be at least 24 years old.

Previous IRU research showed that 79% of drivers across Europe believe the difficulty of attracting women to the profession is one of the top reasons for the driver shortage. A similar number, 76%, believe that a perception that the industry has poor working conditions is deterring large numbers from applying, while 77% think long periods away from home deter many from entering the profession.

Ms Visser continued: “It is clear that the industry has a serious challenge when it comes to attracting women and young people – these two groups together make up the majority of the Spanish workforce and yet the clear minority within the road transport sector. Changing the perception of the industry among these groups should be a top priority if we are to reverse this trend. But doing so will require action from all stakeholders connected to the industry, including governments, local authorities, and social, industry and educational partners.”

The IRU Driver Shortage Road Map

To address these challenges in Spain and throughout Europe, IRU has worked in close co-operation with its members to create an action plan of short, medium and long-term measures.

IRU has already taken steps, including the regular collection of company data, to find facts and monitor trends. It has launched a joint initiative with the European Shippers Council (ESC) to develop common principles aimed at improving the treatment of drivers at delivery sites. IRU has also established an expert group to address driver training legislation and its effectiveness, the conclusions and recommendations from which are expected early in October.

Together with a number of partners, the IRU has also set up a Women in Transport Network, aimed at increasing the number of women in the transport sector and their representation at all working levels as well as to promote transport as an attractive field for women to work in. It will contribute to incentives such as creating awards for female drivers, as well as rewarding best performing companies for recruitment, inclusiveness and retention.

A focus on training

IRU has also launched a new driver certification service in partnership with and piloted with ALSA, a leading company in the Spanish road passenger transport sector. Based on an objective skills assessment, the certification aims to demonstrate the professionalism of drivers, to provide useful insights and to foster a culture of continuous improvement through continuous evaluation.

This also sends a positive message to potential recruits, who can rest assured that companies participating in the scheme invest in their drivers’ development and help them reach their full potential.

Juan Antonio Esteban, ALSA´s HR Director, added: “The IRU certification scheme helps our drivers grow and develop as professionals within the company, which is beneficial not just for them, but for the organisation and the wider industry. Professionals entering the workforce today expect to progress in their job, and our customers expect drivers to provide a safe and quality service. We believe that IRU certification can contribute in both areas.”