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Attracting women to the driving profession – solution to the approaching driver shortage?

The lack of drivers has been a major problem for the European transport industry. Of late, the financial crisis and global recession have made the issue somewhat less urgent. However, when the economy turns around the subject will once again be high on the agenda. In order to secure the profession’s future a broader recruitment base is needed. A change of attitude within the industry is needed to ensure that the profession will become more appealing for women too.

Women truck drivers are a rarity. For example, in Great Britain there all told 309,100 drivers of heavy trucks and less than one per cent are women, according to figures for 2008 produced by the independent organisation Skills for Logistics. In 2006, Britain had a shortage of 46,000 drivers and Skills for Logistics, which works in parallel with the transport industry, issued a widespread appeal in order to attract more drivers, both young people and women.

The situation looks similar across large parts of Europe. And in Sweden, which often beats its chest on equality issues, the proportion of women drivers is just four per cent.

“Truck driving requires professional skills and places great demands on the driver, but there is no practical reason why women should not drive heavy trucks,” says Liam Northfield of Britain’s Freight Transport Association.

Preconceived ideas are common
There are a number of preconceptions about the driving profession that make women reluctant to come forward. One is that the profession involves long periods of time away from the family, although the fact is that international long-distance transport services are a small part of the transport cake. Less than three per cent of all freight is transported further than 500 km and a massive two-thirds of goods travel less than 50 km on Europe’s roads.

Another argument is that women quite simply do not have the physical requirements to make it in the driving profession, an argument which to a certain extent would have held water 30 years ago, when working in haulage was usually physically stressful for the driver. Today the situation is very different.
Swedish truck manufacturer Volvo Trucks has long focused on building vehicles that suit as many people as possible.

“Our vehicles should be able to be handled by both tall men and short women,” says Rikard Orell, Design Manager at Volvo Trucks. “A few years ago it was pointed out that the manual gearboxes were difficult to handle for shorter people; they had difficulty reaching the gear lever from the high seat. So we immediately changed that,” relates Rikard Orell.
Today these aspects are completely integrated in the design department’s thinking. Driving a truck today is not a tough job.

“Our task is to create trucks that are as comfortable and functional as possible for the specific tasks for which they will be used. The driver should benefit, irrespective of whether it is a woman or a man behind the wheel,” says Rikard Orell.

Even those aspects that are not directly connected to the actual driving process have become less physically strenuous.
“Previously, loading and unloading was an unbelievably hard operation,” continues Rikard Orell.  “Heavy sacks of potatoes were loaded by hand. Today the whole logistics industry is so standardised. All packages are on pallets which are handled using electric pallet trucks. It requires no strength.”

Technology and design are one thing. The focus is also on making it easier for women to enter the driving profession. In order to target women directly Volvo Trucks in Sweden has been organising all-women events since 1999. In September last year one such event was held, a whole day for women. Over 100 women were invited to Volvo in Gothenburg in order to have the chance to try truck driving and to listen to talks on the driving profession, trucks and the freight industry.

Susanne Frödin is Market Communications and PR Manager for Volvo Trucks in the Nordic region and the initiator of Women’s Day.

“We have too few women in the truck industry. Volvo Trucks would like the situation to be more balanced, that would make it more fun, more creative and contribute to the development of the driving profession,” says Susanne Frödin.

Women role figures important
Rolf Wallin, Training Manager at Swedish logistics company BDX in Luleå, believes that women drive in a more environmentally friendly manner, are fuel-efficient and are more cautious with vehicles. In spite of this BDX has only between five and ten women drivers in its 1,700-strong staff. Therefore, in conjunction with haulage interest group “Sveriges Åkeriföretag Norr” and local upper secondary schools, they started the Drivers on the Road project, which was all about attracting more young people, mainly girls, to the driving profession.

“The best way to succeed in attracting women to the driving profession is for women who already drive trucks to talk about what it’s like. And since there are so few women, we have a problem. We must get this process underway,” he says.

Dutch haulage company Oegema Transport hauls freight throughout Europe and undertakes domestic distribution assignments. Of around 240 employees ten are women. Three of them drive on international routes.

“When we recruit drivers we choose those who suit the job best irrespective of whether they are women or not,” says Sibbele Oegema, CEO of Oegema Transport. “However, I would like to have more women drivers since they drive more cautiously and are more fuel-efficient. My main challenge for the future is to have a sufficient number of drivers to meet customer demand. The problem at the moment is that there are so few women entering the driving profession.”

Action at EU level is needed
The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) has decided that by 2013, all member associations must take the necessary measures, both at national and at company level, to recruit substantially more women to the transport industry than is the case today.

Brigitta Paas is Vice Chairperson of ETF and active in the organisation’s equal opportunities team.

“I would like to see the EU’s Transport Commission do something so that the number of women drivers in the different countries is surveyed. So far, however, there is no organised register. I want to have hard figures for the number of women truck drivers on a European level in order to be able to put pressure on transport companies and politicians.”

Volvo Trucks wants to play a distinct role in this development.
“There is no rational reason why women should not be able to drive trucks,” says Lennart Pilskog, Director of Public Affairs at Volvo Trucks. “It is mainly about attitudes. The transport sector will increase again and when it does, the lack of drivers will once more become an issue for the industry. So it is even more important to be able to attract women to the profession.” 

August 2, 2010

Film links:
See the film from a Women’s Day that was organised in Sweden:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMYdrxEOSGc

Watch as Malin Aspman, 22, test drives a Volvo F88 from 1965 and a Volvo FH16 700 hp in order to compare how the technology and, above all the driving profession, have changed over the past four decades:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnZs7JNXTd8


Liam Northfield of Britain’s Freight Transport Association.


Rikard Orell, Design Manager at Volvo Trucks
“Our task is to create trucks that are as comfortable and functional as possible for the specific tasks for which they will be used. The driver should benefit, irrespective of whether it is a woman or a man behind the wheel,” says Rikard Orell.


Women’s Day
In order to target women directly Volvo Trucks in Sweden has been organising all-women events since 1999. In September last year one such event was held, a whole day for women. Over 100 women were invited to Volvo in Gothenburg to have the chance to try truck driving.


Susanne Frödin is Market Communications and PR Manager for Volvo Trucks in the Nordic region, and the initiator of the Women’s Day.
“We have too few women in the truck industry. Volvo Trucks would like the situation to be more balanced, that would make it more fun, more creative and contribute to the development of the driving profession,” says Susanne Frödin.


Lennart Pilskog, Director of Public Affairs at Volvo Trucks.
“There is no rational reason why women should not be able to drive trucks. It is mainly about attitudes. The transport sector will increase again and when it does, the lack of drivers will once more become an issue for the industry. So it is even more important to be able to attract women to the profession.”


Dutch haulage company Oegema Transport hauls freight throughout Europe and undertakes domestic distribution assignments. Of around 240 employees ten are women. Three of them drive on international routes.

Direct link to images in image gallery 

For further information, please contact:
Marie Vassiliadis, Media Relations Europe, phone +46 31 322 41 27, e-mail
marie.vassiliadis@volvo.com

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