'There's a lack of respect for the sector': Trucking firms need more foreign drivers to fill staff gaps

Too few young drivers are coming into the industry due to poor policies, officials say.

By Conor McMahon Reporter, Fora

A LACK OF young blood in the truck driving industry means transport bosses are recruiting workers from as far afield as South Africa.

That’s according to the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA), which has called on the government to increase the number of non-EU work permits so it can fill vacancies here.

According to the organisation’s president, Verona Murphy, firms are looking for drivers in countries like the southern African nation, where English is widely spoken and truckers drive on the left-hand side of the road.

Murphy estimated that between 30 and 40 applications have been submitted by IRHA members for non-EU work permits since November last year.

She told Fora there are roughly 120 such permits allocated each year for the sector but until truck firms can source enough domestic drivers, that figure will have to more than double to 250 to help plug the gap.

According to the IRHA, Ireland is hurtling towards a critical shortage of drivers with heavy goods vehicle (HGV) licences because too few workers are joining the sector, which today employs a total 50,000 people including mechanics and logistics managers.

Murphy, who is also managing director of Wexford-based DruMur Transport, predicted that the country will need to train about 4,500 new truck drivers in the next two years to meet demand, otherwise the cost of consumer goods could soar.

shutterstock_576967951
Source: Shutterstock/Jaroslaw Kilian

“It’s not just in Ireland. It’s actually all over Europe,” Murphy said. “We sit on the International Road Transport Union in Brussels and every association within the EU is experiencing the same problems.”

Truck driving is often cited as one of the best-paid jobs that doesn’t require a university degree.

Under the non-EU permit scheme, firms must provide a minimum salary of €30,000 per annum.

When asked how much an Irish driver can expect to earn, Murphy said there’s no definitive figure because jobs vary but every driver would, at the very least, take home the €30,000 minimum each year.

Murphy attributed Ireland’s looming driver shortage to a myriad of factors including red tape and the absence of an apprenticeship programme.

In response to a recent parliamentary question, Minister of State for Training John Halligan said a three-year HGV driver apprenticeship will be rolled out later this year with the IRHA as industry lead.

However, Murphy has thrown cold water on the project, saying the organisation has lost hope in the government’s ability to deliver such a scheme.

“We have tried to promote an apprenticeship programme that essentially we developed. We’ve been waiting for nearly three years on certification,” she said. “We’ve just lost interest and we’re looking at other ideas because it’s just impossible.

“We’re being left to our own devices and there’s nothing being done to garner the industry. Agriculture would be regarded as our primary industry, but the truth is the milk doesn’t go on the cow – the milk has to go on the truck for it to be of any use. That’s the whole issue.”

26510163109_c852709d11_o Verona Murphy with MEP Sean Kelly
Source: Sean Kelly MEP/Flickr

Training course

According to Murphy, a major factor that’s hurting the industry’s hiring power is the certificate of professional competence (CPC) training programme that drivers are required to complete once a year.

Murphy said it is the content of the course – which is devised by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) -  that frustrates drivers, rather than the time and cost involved.

“It’s a seven-hour course and it’s completed once a year. It mightn’t sound like a lot, but it’s seven hours of sheer boredom. There’s no content in it that’s of any value,” she said.

“That again points to the fact that drivers are not regarded as intelligent beings. If somebody is doing the job every day, why would they need seven hours in refreshment of what they do every day? It’s things like that that are putting people off.”

Murphy said in the UK, the CPC course is more closely aligned with modern trucking, whereas some of the material covered in the Irish version is 25 years out of date.

In response to Murphy’s criticisms, an RSA spokeswoman told Fora that the current Irish course materials reflected “the content from the EU directive and is regularly updated to replicate new legislation and industry developments”.

“We regularly review CPC with the assistance of professional drivers and leaders in the industry,” she said.

The unsocial aspect of truck driving, which rarely operates on a nine-to-five basis, is also putting off young workers, Murphy said.

Better service stations that are accessible to large vehicles might help make the job more appealing, she said.

“A driver can’t access toilet facilities if they’re on a night run after 11pm. Whatever about a man, for a woman that can be extremely difficult and it’s very off-putting.

“We work 24/7 in that it’s not a nine to five job for anybody really. On that basis, the facilities aren’t being provided. It is extremely difficult form the point of view… it just shows the lack of regard in general for the sector.”

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