Women key to solving truck driver shortages, says IRU


Europe’s chronic shortage of truck drivers can be significantly eased if the industry is made safer and more attractive for women.

That is the firm conviction of Raluca Marian, a senior adviser at the International Road Transport Union (IRU), the global advocacy and lobbying association that also develops standards and best practice, researches trends, and trains drivers, transport operators, transport associations and customs officials.

She makes a compelling case for a new approach to recruitment that caters more for the needs of women. 

She told Lloyd’s Loading List that in Europe, one fifth of driver positions are currently unfilled, a trend which is threatening operators’ ability to meet growing demand. And, in the UK, the country’s exit from the European Union arrives just as its shortage of drivers is estimated to be growing at what the IRU calls a “staggering rate of 50 drivers per day”.

Despite the shortages, however, in the road transport industry women make up just 2% of the European driver population

 “If we can get that percentage from two to ten percent, that’s a good solution to the driver shortage,” said Marian. “Attracting women to the profession is a great way to tackle driver shortages.”

According to Marian, far more can be done to attract women to trucking by improving the profession’s image, working conditions and safety. One major problem identified by the IRU is the lack of secure overnight parking.

“As a woman, you want to be safe parking on the highway when you go to sleep at night,” said Marian. “The lack of parking which is safe does not help.

“But it’s not only safety; it’s simply having good conditions in parking. Drivers need somewhere to stop. They are under pressure with driving time to find a space or they will be breaking the law. But often there is no parking at all. There are 100,000 missing parking spaces in Europe. 

“If you are trying to attract women or anyone else to this industry, but you have to admit that we don’t have parking, it’s not good. But that’s the reality.”

The IRU is currently working with various European worker unions and shipper organisations to improve the provision of secure parking, and the reception of drivers when they arrive at destinations with cargo.

Marian takes the view that if working conditions are improved, then this will eventually be reflected in a better image for trucking, another issue when it comes to recruitment.

“Personally, I don’t like to look at women as something special; we are just human beings who might be sensitive to different aspects,” she said. “But we are all humans and deserve good conditions when we work.

“Truck driving jobs have been traditionally associated with men, so we are looking at how can we change that.

“Again, it’s a lot about image. Every company has its own way to promote this. And larger companies like UPS have the means to run bigger campaigns and attract women.”

Unsociable image
The IRU is also making efforts to change the view among women that truck driving always involves long hours away from home and family.

“Being away from home for several days is probably not compatible with many women’s lives, and their families’ lives,” she said. “[But] there are different types of freight; 85% is short-distance freight. 

“With long-distance freight, there may be times in a woman’s life when they are happy to do this, but there is no reason why women can’t do short distance freight.”

Marian is encouraged by the efforts of individual companies to improve workplace conditions. She believes making women feel welcome in freight and trucking businesses that have traditionally been dominated by men is all about respect.

“If the climate that is promoted is a climate of mutual respect and human decency then this this will, by definition, make life easier for women,” she noted.

If the industry continues to consider how it can address the problems potential female employees see or perceive, then she believes more women drivers will sign up. 

“If stakeholders across the road transport sector in Europe work together to address problems, the driver shortage can be addressed, and the [negative] impact of shortages on businesses and the wider economy avoided,” she said.