The driver shortage plaguing Europe’s northern freight markets has now spread southwards.

A new survey by the International Road Transport Union (IRU) has found that 20% of all positions remain unfilled in Spain, a situation the haulage lobbying organization said was causing “profound” logistics difficulties.

“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,” the IRU said in a statement. “Coupled with recruitment into the industry stalling, this means the driver shortage could reach 30% within one year if not addressed immediately.”

The Spanish shortages are reflected across Europe. The IRU told FreightWaves last month that driver shortages were a “real and growing threat” to the ability of the European logistics sector to meet the needs of shippers.

Polling of IRU members and associated organizations in Europe from October 2018 to January 2019 revealed a driver shortage of 21% across the freight transport sector.

The U.K.’s shortage of truckers is currently growing at a rate of 50 drivers per day, while in Germany the average driver’s age is now over 47, meaning that some 40% of truckers are expected to retire by 2027 when it is estimated there will be a total driver shortfall of around 185,000.

In Norway, trucking companies estimate their demand for drivers will increase by 12% this year. Combined with the 22% vacancy rate identified in 2018, this will increase the country’s shortage to around 35%.

“The situation in Spain is part of a wider trend we are seeing across Europe,” said Esther Visser, IRU’s Manager of Social Affairs. “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.”

Visser continued, “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.”

The lack of women and young people entering the driving profession is a problem across Europe, and Spain is no exception – female drivers make up just 3% of the country’s commercial driver workforce, and young people aged 25 and under constitute just 5%. The average Spanish professional driver is now 46 years old and male.

IRU research shows 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. Of those polled, 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.

“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,” said Visser.

“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.”

To address these challenges in Spain and throughout Europe the IRU has launched a joint initiative with the European Shippers Council to develop common principles aimed at improving the treatment of drivers at delivery sites.

The IRU has also established an expert group to address driver training legislation and its effectiveness, which will report back later this month, while a Women in Transport Network has been set up to promote the sector to women.

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