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Christmas stress on the streets of Germany

 

The celebration of love, peace and contemplation is a perfect opportunity to switch off. Sadly, that’s not the case for everyone: the rolling tide of gifts leads to maximum stress in the logistics sector. The worsening driver shortage makes the problem even worse.

Logistics is the third largest sector in Germany, after the automotive industry and retail. 3.2 million people employed by around 70,000 companies, most of them medium-sized, keep the country moving with logistics services. And much of that is by road: According to the German Federal Office of Statistics, some 3.3 million HGVs were travelling the roads of Germany in 2020, most of them on the autobahn network. That all added up to 498.6 billion tonne-kilometres – almost three quarters of  Germany's total freight transport volume by all means of transport over the entire year. And in the weeks before Christmas, there is traditionally a lot going on.

Much of this is due to the boom in online shopping: The Bundesverband Paket und Expresslogistik (Federal Association of Parcel and Express Logistics) is expecting around 445 million courier, express and parcel (CEP) shipments in the run-up to Christmas alone – that’s three percent more than in 2020, with all the business closures due to the pandemic. To handle the situation, some 30,000 additional staff and 25,000 more vehicles will be needed on the streets.

A tough climate for logistics companies

 

It’s not easy – the current climate makes life extra difficult for companies. Georg Dettendorfer, managing director of Dettendorfer Spedition in Nußdorf am Inn (Bavaria), can tell you a thing or two about it. He knows the industry inside out, and knows its current problems too: queues at the borders, delivery bottlenecks and rising costs of fuel and consumables are causing issues for his company too.

And that’s before you mention Covid: in Rosenheim district, where the company is based, the pandemic is raging with one of the highest case rates in Germany at the start of December 2021. “We’re feeling the staff shortages due to quarantine or illness. We can’t load and unload HGVs because we don’t have the 3G certificates, drivers are not allowed to use the company toilets,” says Dettendorfer, who is also on the board of IHK München, the Munich Chamber of Trade and Industry.

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There are plenty of mismatched vehicles to deliver the Christmas parcels. However, there is a massive shortage of drivers, many trucks have to stand still.

Georg Dettendorfer schaut freundlich in die Kamera.
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Difficult times for logistics specialists Georg Dettendorfer, Managing Director of the Dettendorfer haulage company, laments supply shortages and cost increases for fuel and operating materials

Almost 200,000 HGV drivers short by 2030

 

However, the biggest problem in the logistics sector is the shortage of HGV drivers – for both regional and long-distance freight. “The driver shortage is serious and the problem has been fuelled by Covid. Trucks are sitting unused in the yards, trips are being cancelled,” explains Dettendorfer. DB Schenker has also seen “an increasing challenge in the recruitment of industrial workers, especially HGV drivers.” Nevertheless, thanks to its own driver capacity, the company is currently well positioned to be able to offer its customers transport security.

"THE DRIVER SHORTAGE IS SEVERE AND IS FURTHER FUELLED BY CORONA. AS A RESULT, TRUCKS REMAIN UNMANNED IN THE TRADE AND TOURS ARE CANCELLED."

Georg Dettendorfer
Managing Director of the Dettendorfer haulage company

Ultimately, there are already 60,000 – 80,000 truck driver vacancies in Germany, and that number is rising. A study by the German federal transport ministry found that there are likely to be more than 185,000 by the end of the year. “If this trend is not halted, we could expect to see a collapse of the supply chain in just two to three years,” warns Guido Borning, managing director of the umbrella organisation for the mobility and logistics industry in the Rhineland-Palatinate region. “The industry is systemically important.”

The Bundesverband Wirtschaft, Verkehr und Logistik (BWVL – the German Association for Business, Transport and Logistics) also believes that the situation in the cab is tense. “Around 67,000 qualified HGV drivers retire every year, but only around 25,000 new drivers join the industry,” says BWVL general manager Markus Olligschläger. Some 1.5 million driver cards are registered with the German federal motor vehicle and transport authority (KBA), and around two thirds of cardholders are aged 45 or over. Most retire at only 60, says Olligschläger. “It's a physically demanding job, one that takes its toll.”

Markus Olligschläger schaut freundlich in die Kamera.
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The country needs new skilled workers Markus Olligschläger, BWVL Managing Director, wants to modernise the qualification of drivers and reduce bureaucracy in order to counteract the shortage of skilled workers

Vital for society's survival

 

The reasons for the driver shortage are many: wage pressure (especially due to competition from eastern Europe), heavy congestion, irregular working hours, difficult working conditions and the high cost of obtaining an HGV license which can no longer be achieved free of charge through the army since the demise of military service.

Above all, however, truck drivers suffer from an image problem; they are regarded as responsible for congestion and blocking the outside lane. But they’re also vital for society's survival, believes Olligschläge “It’s like the circulation of blood in the body. You expect it to work, and it is only when you have problems with it that you realise how important it is.” He regards the stereotypical image of the trucker as long outdated: “It was a romantic adventure, once upon a time. Today's truck cab is a modern workspace with a great deal of responsibility.”

"EVERY YEAR, ABOUT 67,000 QUALIFIED TRUCK DRIVERS RETIRE, AND ONLY ABOUT 25,000 COME BACK."

Markus Olligschläger
BWVL Managing Director

To ensure that this “circulatory system” does not collapse at any point – as recently happened for a while in the UK, many companies have been taking countermeasures for some time now. And that includes Dettendorfer: “wage adjustments for drivers, a better work/life balance, smarter shift patterns and more breaks at home for local and regional freight – we're trying to attract new young drivers.”

Five-point plan for the secure supply of goods

 

As early as 2018, BWVL was involved in an association initiative to draw up a “five-point plan to combat logistics bottlenecks and driver shortages in road freight transport” for the federal government of the day. Its proposals included: making the profession of truck driver more attractive (for women too) by offering higher salaries and innovative working hours models; improving training and qualifications; better roads and more parking; support to attract new young drivers and comprehensive digitalisation. A number of industry representatives founded the Verein Pro-Fahrer-Image e.V. (PROFI – the Association for the Image of Drivers) in 2019 to raise the regard for the profession. MAN is one of a number of high calibre campaigners to support this initiative as partners.

Olligschläger believes that the BWVL’s proposals can be passed on 1:1 to the new traffic light coalition. The new government already has freight transport on the agenda. The SPD, Greens and FDP coalition agreement says that “We will build secure HGV parking on and around the autobahn network with optimised telematics. We will counter the shortage of skilled workers, modernise qualifications and reduce bureaucracy.” All of this should continue to ensure that the supply of goods in Germany is secure – and the levels of Christmas stress in the truck cab will soon be a little lower.

Text   Christian Jeß
Photos   iStock/picture alliance

#Truck#Logistics

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