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Are EU Drivers A Good Idea?

With the shortage of LGV drivers in the UK, many companies are looking further afield to support their staffing requirements. But is it a good idea to turn to Europe for our new drivers and what other options do we have?

As I write this, the UK has a truck driver shortage of around 50,000 with this figure only worsening as older drivers retire. Many large companies are recruiting from countries such as Greece and Portugal, who's unemployment levels are incredibly high since the crash of economies. It makes sense, the UK needs drivers and these EU countries need jobs, why not fill our roles with the void. But unfortunately it's not as simple as it seems.

EU Driver in Truck

Having worked in the recruitment of EU drivers, more specifically in a training role, I have witnessed the problems arisen from recruiting drivers from the EU. The company I was working with recruited and assessed drivers in their home country and then if they passed a driving assessment and Skype interview, they were invited to join us in the UK for training with the potential to fulfil a role as a driver.

When the drivers joined us in the UK they were given training, mostly to allow for the differences in driving in the UK, but also the difference with our vehicles. Initially we had predicted that each driver would be given a day's training, but soon it was apparent that there was a severe shortage of skills from the majority of drivers attending. This is only worsened by their lack of understanding of the English language. All these drivers were vetted and Skype interviewed, but put them in a strange lorry, on a strange road and in a strange country and understanding basic instruction was often lost. This made the whole experience of training dangerous.

EU Drivers Lacking Skills/Experience

There are many differences between driving in the UK and in Europe, but it's not just driving on the wrong side of the road. A lot of the EU drivers whom I trained required an additional five days of training after the initially planned one day. Very few of the drivers I met had any concept of reversing, many had never completed any coupling/uncoupling and the majority didn't have enough road awareness.

All of the drivers we invited from Europe had a minimum of two years driving experience, but what we might class as experience and what they would class as experience are very different. Many of the drivers had years of experience, but that experience was often international, which meant they'd spent years driving along the motorways of Europe. This is not exactly the experience we need when employing drivers in the UK.

EU Driving Styles

Many EU drivers who came through myself for jobs in the UK retained their own cultural driving style. It's easy to think that a driver is simply a driver, regardless of their origin, but unfortunately this isn't true. The habits of drivers are often engrained in their mind and as the old saying goes, habits die hard.

It would seem drivers from every country have their own style of driving, but not all 'styles' are desirable to the UK jobs market. If you've ever driven through Europe, it's not hard to see the differences in each country. If you've ever driven in Poland you'll notice that a large proportion of drivers travel too close to the vehicle in front of them and they're often in a rush to overtake/undertake wherever possible. Drivers in Greece will often think nothing of overtaking on a corner, while in Portugal lorry drivers will flash their headlights at oncoming traffic assert that they have priority. While most of these characteristics can be trained out, it's no easy task.

Bridge Bashing

Throughout most of Europe there is a height limit of 4 metres (13ft 2inches), so of course Europe has a standard height for trailers of 4 metres. When EU drivers have come to the UK, they've often not been aware of the larger vehicles we have on the roads. This only results with one thing, colliding with a low bridge. Training for this is crucial, but it's about changing mindset rather than learning a new skill.

Where Is The Future?

While the above is taken from my own personal experience, it does explain some of the accidents seen on UK roads involving EU drivers. It's never good to generalise, so this is just looking at my own personal experience and it's important to mention that I've seen good and bad drivers come from every country. But, I think it's fair to say that if you wanted to introduce 50,000 new drivers into the industry, it would be more cost effective, in the long run, to train home-grown than to import.

If you're interested in what costs are involved with training a commercial driver check out the link.