From trucker to logistics manager?

The volume of freight traffic is increasing. At the same time, the sector is evolving. New technologies are revolutionizing logistics processes and trucks. So what does that mean for truck drivers in their cabs? Today trucking is a tough job, but that could change in the future.

Long-term shortage of truckers

A tough guy with a soft heart who keeps a cool head even on narrow mountain roads, and patiently waits for the congestion to end. For decades, truckers have enjoyed the image of “cowboys of the road” epitomizing freedom, a down-to-earth attitude and adventure. Yet these heroes of the road are becoming a rare species. Young people are not following in their footsteps. For years the transport sector has had considerable problems finding suitable personnel. And the situation is becoming more and more serious. Every year, 30,000 truck drivers retire, but only around 18,000 young drivers qualify for the job. In December 2019, there were almost 15,000 vacancies in Germany listed on the online job portal of the Federal Employment Agency alone. According to the BGL (German Freight Transport Association), today there are 60,000 vacancies for truckers. The association is warning that supplies may collapse. The DSLV (German Freight Forwarders and Logisticts Operators) also sees the situation as critical and puts the number of truck drivers needed at 45,000.

No time for breaks. Long-distance truckers also have their hands full at transshipment sites. Picture: Ivan Bandura on Unsplash

More technology for truckers

Today the truck driver’s job attracts far fewer career entrants than it used to. The low pay amounting to an average annual salary of approximately EUR 28,000 is one of the main reasons, and drivers from Eastern Europe work under much worse conditions. Just for comparison, the average trucker in the US earns around EUR 53,000. Long-distance truck drivers in particular are often away from their families for weeks on end. Then there are occupational health problems such as putting on weight and developing diabetes due to the stress and sitting for long periods. Digitization and connectivity in the transport sector plus improved regulatory conditions could make the job more attractive again, because these factors would create new options and areas where truck drivers could be deployed. Today intelligent safety systems already support drivers in their day-to-day work. Slow rush-hour traffic, regular congestion and stop-and-go traffic queues – these extremely demanding classical driving situations are gradually being alleviated.

[Translate to English:] Im Mercedes-Benz Future Truck wird der Lkw-Fahrer zum vernetzten Transportmanager. Bildquelle: Daimler AG
In the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck the driver becomes a connected transport manager. Picture: Daimler AG

The “Neotrucker” – a logistics all-rounder

But the developments are going further than that. The trucks of tomorrow will be more intelligent and more comfortable. At the last IAA Commercial Vehicles, fully connected trucks were once again presented – partially automated driving, mirror cams instead of external mirrors and an interactive multimedia cockpit will ensure greater safety and comfort. The Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 was one of the first prototypes for the hi-tech trucker’s workplace of the future, turning the cab into a mobile office and living space. But is that sufficient to arouse new enthusiasm for what is today a problematic workplace? Will the human trucker be necessary at all, if the computer takes over the steering wheel? Yes and no. Just as the cab is evolving into human-machine interface, the truck driver is evolving into a modern logistics expert in a digital truck.

That will also change the future job profile: during the autonomous journey drivers can use the time to conveniently carry out office and planning tasks and to monitor the self-driving system – similar to flying an airplane. As a cargo manager, the driver will prepare the transport, load the truck, monitor departure and arrival, and finally unload the cargo. The “pilot” (driver) is actively involved in the transport process before and after the start of the journey and during the last mile – or in an emergency. The trucker as a planning and monitoring IT professional in the autonomous hi-tech vehicle – this new focus should polish up the job’s image and arouse new interest. Time will tell.