Logistics keep the world's wheels turning. Most things stop if it doesn't work, and components and spare parts are left in the ports and the grain in the silos. In addition, there is a significant shortage of professionals in the logistics sector. The Ahola Group investigated what can be done to get competent people into the logistics industry in the future so that the goods continue to reach all corners of the country.
The driver shortage can create a really big problem in the future; the challenge has been known for a long time. The situation is escalating, as a large generation of drivers is about to retire while too few young people are applying to the industry.
In the spring of 2022, Ahola Group surveyed 15–24-year-old young people in Finland about their thoughts and attitudes regarding driver work and the logistics industry. The answers were then mirrored against a survey conducted among Ahola's drivers to see if the young people's thoughts agreed with the experiences of professional drivers. The goal was to identify the problems and obstacles to applying to the industry and find solutions.
The work is significant but not inspiring.
Up to 80% of the young people who answered thought that logistics is a socially significant industry and essential for society to function. Nevertheless, only 38% of respondents believed that they would experience work as meaningful. Factors that had a negative impact were i.a. prejudices that work is very physically demanding, monotonous, and assumed to take a lot of time from free time. These factors had a clear negative impact on young people's willingness to apply for a profession. Ahola's drivers experienced the matter completely differently: 90% of the respondents felt that the work was meaningful. At the same time, 64% of the responding drivers think that the work is rewarding.
Work flexibility and compatibility with one's lifestyle are increasingly important factors for young people entering the labor market. Prejudice against the logistics industry and driver work is firmly entrenched, even though the industry and the profession have developed enormously. The EU has also recently implemented a mobility package that improves and harmonizes drivers' social and working conditions throughout the EU.
- Of course, the industry requires early wake-ups and a lot of traveling. Still, according to the survey conducted among our drivers, almost half of them have applied to the industry specifically to see the world. As a counterweight to the travel, the drivers have free weeks to spend at home, says one of the owners of the family company Ahola, Group CEO Ida Saavalainen.
Young people believe that employment opportunities in the industry are decreasing; professional drivers believe the opposite.
When asked about the future, just over half (54%) of young people feel that the employment opportunities for professional drivers are good. However, many believe that the need for professional drivers will decrease in the future. More than a third of young people (39%) believe that the need for professional drivers will decrease in the 2030s and almost half (45%) of young people believe that robotics and automation will reduce the need for professional drivers in the future. However, Ahola's drivers have a different opinion on the matter: only 16% believe that the need for professional drivers will decrease in the 2030s and only 11% believe that robotics and automation will reduce the need for professional drivers.
- The driver's role is important and significant also in the future. It is still worth training to become a professional driver, despite all the developments in the industry. There is more than enough work and driving, Saavalainen reminds.
In recent years, the logistics and transport industry has taken enormous strides in digitization and technological development. At Ahola, digital solutions are used in route planning to ensure efficiency; the vehicles are also equipped with the latest technology that promotes environmentally friendly transport. With the help of the efficiency that digitization makes possible, Ahola has been able to reduce emissions from transport by up to 63% compared to the 2005 reference value.
The problems in the industry can be solved by lowering the threshold for education.
- Education for professional drivers should be made more efficient, but without compromising safety. In general, education should be planned based on the actual need and investments should be allocated to the right places. If it doesn't become easier to apply to the industry, it could lead to a real crisis. Finland is practically an island and needs professional drivers to keep the country's wheels rolling, says Saavalainen.
The key to solving the skills shortage is to lower the educational threshold. Currently, education and maintaining the professional competence of vehicle combination drivers requires significant investments in both time and money, something that not everyone necessarily has the opportunity to do. There is a lot of bureaucracy in the background, everything from Finnish legislation to EU directives; therefore, the transport companies cannot solve the problems alone.
- Flexibility is needed in the education so that we will also have competent people in the future, who will ensure that products and spare parts find their way onto store shelves, that construction sites are completed on time, and that wind farms are erected. Currently, education does not sufficiently take into account, e.g. entry-level and previous experience, so further education is not necessarily an attractive option for those already in the industry, says Saavalainen.
- We, just like other companies in the industry, do our best to encourage new talent to apply to the industry, but basically it's up the authorities. It is of the utmost importance that the bottlenecks for applying to the sector are also identified at the authority level, and sustainable solutions are pursued, continues Saavalainen.
In the survey more than two-thirds of the young people who responded to the survey (69%) believed that working as a professional driver requires a wide range of different skills and that the training also requires theoretical knowledge (65%). Most young respondents (78%) believe that the best way to train as a heavy vehicle driver is to learn by doing.
- The young people have an entirely correct image that the industry can be learned through practical work, but to become a professional driver you also need to study and therefore the education threshold must be lowered, summarizes Saavalainen.