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The International Road Transport Union (IRU) have urged more countries to allow adults aged 18 and over to drive trucks, the aim of which is to alleviate both driver shortages and youth unemployment. Will young people heed the call though? And would entering trucking be worth their while?

The IRU called on countries to reduce their truck driver age limits on Thursday, arguing that 20% of young people aged 15-24 worldwide (267 million) are not in employment, education or training. They also point out that 21% of truck driver positions and 19% of bus and coach driver positions in Europe and the CIS are unfilled.

However, will reducing the age limits in more countries solve these problems?

Looking at the UK

To answer the question, it makes perfect sense to look at countries where young adults over the age of 18 can already drive a truck. One of those is of course the United Kingdom, where people aged between 18 and 20 can drive lorries provided they have a CPC qualification.

Despite the lower age limit, driver shortages are still present in the UK – albeit in a time of high demand sparked by the rise in e-commerce since the start of the pandemic.

Last month, we reported how research conducted by Driver Require concluded that there are 40,000 new passes entering the LGV driver pool every 12 months, with about 10,000 retiring. At the same time, the pool of drivers has remained at approximately 320,000 for the last 4 years. As the numbers have not increased, Driver Require believe about 30,000 drivers are leaving the profession annually prior to retirement.

Poor working conditions and roadside facilities, long unpredictable hours, stress at work, conflict between family and work commitments, as well as low pay, are cited as the reasons behind the drop in the driver pool.

Why might young adults snub the chance to be a truck driver?

Given some of the issues listed above, would an experienced trucker recommend the profession to an 18-year-old in 2020? That’s the question we posed to a number of lorry drivers in different social media groups.

Insurance and training costs

Over on European Truckers GB, a number of lorry drivers stressed that insurance and training costs could be a real deterrent for young adults looking to get started. Looking at the insurance market, it’s easy to see why.

Although the idea that no truck driver under the age of 25 can ever get insurance is now considered a myth, the fact remains that premiums for young drivers are difficult to find and higher-priced than average. If that wasn’t prohibitive enough, then there’s also the cost of your training.

This is exemplified by one driver from a Yorkshire-base haulier, who told us in frank terms that „Many insurance companies won’t touch you until your at least 21, with some insurance companies not even wanting to touch you until your 25. I’d also love to see a 16-18 year old dump £3,000 into training.”

Statistics from the IRU nonetheless show that younger drivers should not have to put up with expensive premiums. The IRU say that strict training requirements now mean younger drivers are no more accident prone than their older counterparts. To make this point, the IRU cite data that shows the accident rate is even higher in countries where the minimum age is 21 than in those where the minimum age is 18.

Salary and conditions

Another issue mentioned by a number of the drivers we spoke to on social media is naturally the pay and conditions. According to Indeed.co.uk, the average hourly rate for a truck driver in the UK is £13.04. That figure is roughly double the minimum wage for 18-20 year-olds, which is currently £6.45. However, of course, younger drivers are likely to receive lower pay than their experienced counterparts, and with the ‚living wage’ – the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs – being £9.30 per hour, some young adults might find the salaries on offer to be less than attractive.

In the UK HGV Driver Professionals group, Graeme Cunningham from Purfleet Commercials and Maritime Transport Ltd told us in a clear, no-nonsense fashion that pay and conditions must be significantly improved in order to attract young drivers:

The best way to get bum’s on seat’s is to make the job worth it. I’m not just talking all about money, it’s about a combination of things such as T’s &C’s, parking, welfare, sick pay and respect for the fact that driver’s sacrifice a great deal of family life to do this job that some snotty nose booking office clerk or security guard can’t even comprehend. There’s probably a list as long as your arm of things that would attract new blood and dropping the age will not cure it alone.

Autonomous trucks

It might not be at the forefront of people’s minds now, but some young people may also be wondering if autonomous vehicles could make them redundant in the future.

Tim Story, EVP of freight operations at Unishippers, seems to think this is the case in the US. Story told NBC news back in 2018 that “The talk of autonomous vehicles is creating a fear of truck driver extinction. More truck drivers are migrating to lucrative job positions in construction or manual labor remediation, where there is no current automation threat.”

However, some argue that the emergence of autonomous vehicles could also make the profession more attractive to young adults. In the opinion of Fleet Owner editor Neil Apt, autopilot modes could make the job of driving „easier, safer and maybe even more fun.”

Autonomous vehicles nonetheless failed to get a single mention among the drivers we spoke to, indicating that they are not yet a major deterrent to anyone wishing to become a truck driver.

A failure to sell the job in a way younger generations can relate to

A noticeable number of the drivers who reached out to us on social media referred to various stereotypes about millennials and generation Z. One even joked that most millenials would need a “safe space to go cry in” whenever they’re told what to do.

Although such tongue-in-cheek comments are just for fun, they also help to foster the stereotype that millennials are mentally weak, lazy and spoiled. Truck Jobs website alltruckjobs.com believe this has resulted in recruiters failing to lure younger drivers to the profession.

Besides offering better pay and conditions to provide more work/life balance, alltruckjobs.com recommend that employers advertise positions on social media, conduct interviews online and give their prospective employees more flexibility.

Will reducing the driver age limit be enough to meet the world’s driver shortage?

To sum up, the driver shortages in countries with lower age limits suggest that the IRU’s appeal will not be sufficient to attract enough young people to the profession. In the opinion of most of the truck drivers we spoke to today, there are a number of significant barriers to young adults entering the profession – high insurance and training costs chief among them.

On the other hand, such obstacles don’t take away from the fact that many young adults have found satisfaction from being a truck driver. Indeed, a number of the younger drivers who responded to our request today told us that they were „loving it”. The same could yet be true of many other young adults for years to come.

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