Kay Collins traded in a desk and her family’s transportation company books for a truck and the open road for a few days each week. It is not by choice but by necessity.
The 32-year-old accountant has had to replace a truck driver at Collins Transport – a fourth-generation family business in north County Cork – because they can’t hire drivers.
A shortage of 3,000 to 4,000 truck drivers has put pressure on transport companies to keep trucks on the road amid severe disruptions to the global supply chain due to the Covid-19 pandemic, exacerbated in Western Europe by the new post-Brexit border requirements.
âGrowing up and knowing the area, you never thought this would happen,â says Collins, who now drives trucks in Cork, Dublin, Sligo and Belfast.
âThe driver shortage is a bit scary right now. Where is it going to end? Will it stop with shortages on the shelves?
She is not the only one in the family to find herself behind the wheel part-time. His father and uncle, both managers, hit the road again, as did his brother, a truck mechanic.
The problem of an aging driver industry has long been pointed out: a future skills report from 2015 predicted demand of just under 7,000 heavy truck drivers last year. A follow-up report, in 2018, addressing Brexit-related skills shortages, said the statistic was “a cause for concern, requiring urgent attention”.
The pinch is being felt now because many drivers in Eastern Europe have not returned from extended summer holidays, having found alternative work in the booming Polish economy.
“It’s very bad right now,” says Kay’s dad, Michael. “We would normally have drivers on file looking for employment, but we haven’t had one for 12 months.”
His concerns for the business have changed over the past year, but he says he is fortunate to have a brother, daughter and son to turn to to ensure customer orders are filled. .
âBefore, you always wondered if you had enough work. Now you are wondering if you have enough drivers to do the job, âhe says.
âIn the transportation industry, the phone always rings to bring an extra load here and there, but we just can’t do it because we don’t have the drivers to do it. All of these things have a ripple effect on the economy. Truck drivers are the backbone of the economy.
Eugene Drennan, chairman of the Irish Road Haulage Association, put the crisis in his industry bluntly, saying the government must treat the shortage as “a looming national emergency” or deal with supply chain shortages similar to those in the UK. , where a shortage of 100,000 drivers left some supermarket shelves empty.
“This is a very serious crisis that has been going on for many years, but the recent disasters and supply chain shocks with Brexit and the blockade of the Suez Canal are the reason we are hearing about it now,” said Nikolaos Valantasis Kanellos, Lecturer in Logistics at Dublin University of Technology.
Supply chain management analyst says Ireland’s driver shortage may seem minor compared to the UK, but the state’s reliance on road transport, which accounts for 99% of the goods distributed, makes the problem just as difficult.
In Britain, there have been shortages of goods, from milkshakes to building materials. The BP oil company has temporarily closed some forecourts because the lack of drivers prevented the transport of fuel from the refineries. Ireland has yet to experience the same widespread supply shortages.
âThe industry faces the challenge of not having enough drivers, but they are doing their best,â says Aidan Flynn, Managing Director of the Freight Transport Association Ireland.
Driving trucks has become an unattractive job for a variety of reasons: poor wages and career prospects, long hours on the road, unfavorable conditions, tight and stressful delivery times, and high insurance premiums for young drivers, who see better. work options elsewhere.
Since Brexit, border checks and red tape have made it harder for the driver to cross the UK ‘land bridge’, while avoiding it means long ferry trips on direct routes to Europe. With few young drivers entering the industry, the average age has remained stubbornly high, in their fifties.
âNo new blood came in and the old blood went out,â says John Nolan of Nolan Transport, one of the country’s largest transport companies, and secretary of the IRHA.
Nolan says that at one point the business was “down by 100 drivers” out of a full workforce of 450. He sees the shortages continue for the next two to three years and his business costs rise as a result. Nolan must increase his salary by 20% to keep his drivers.
âIf I don’t do this with my drivers, a rival will poach them,â he said.
Paddy Neary (65) from County Louth has been driving trucks for many years but plans to leave the industry next year due to the hardship of life on the road.
âIt’s not the same job. Everyone drives to the clock so you don’t meet people like you used to, âhe says, speaking by phone from Naples on a 10-day round trip to Europe where he has dropped a load of Irish beef and waited for instructions. for his return charge.
âIn Ireland most young people are highly educated and just don’t want to. Before Brexit, you hopped on a ferry and crossed the UK. Now you go on direct boats which take much longer – 26, 27 hours is normal. Many young men have given up. They just couldn’t be bothered.
To make entry into the company easier and more attractive for young drivers, apprenticeship courses have been set up. Starting in January, the Sligo Institute of Technology, in association with the FTAI, will offer two-year business apprenticeships in logistics and supply chain management, where the learner driver will work and see his driving lessons and state-funded tests.
âWe are trying to attract young people and more women into the industry and improve the image of the industry as a valid choice that offers career opportunities,â said Flynn.
As a more immediate solution, the industry wants the government to allow a waiver of the driver’s certificate of professional competence to allow drivers who have retired or left the industry to ‘get behind the wheel’ and not have waiting to be qualified to drive. again.
Kay Collins says it’s a shame that more young drivers don’t have the opportunity to get into the business. She considers driving a “good thing” for those who want to travel, but concedes that the long, uncertain hours can be a drag for young people.
âUnless you really like it, people aren’t drawn to it,â she says.
She believes that not being able to find more pilots will have damaging ripple effects.
âThe driver shortage is likely to end with a carrier shortage. It’s a low-margin business and wages have increased due to driver shortages and demand, âshe said. âIt squeezes us even more. “