Food shortages and other disruptions following the July looting served to highlight the importance of the logistics sector to the South African economy and, with more than 150-millions tons of freight being delivered by trucks, the shortage of drivers is a major problem.
Stellenbosch University and World Bank figures estimate South Africa’s logistics sector is responsible for as much as 11,8% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
However, road freight is increasingly surpassing rail as South Africa’s transport medium of choice, exacerbating the issues caused by the growing scarcity of qualified truck drivers. According to the C-track Freight Transport Index report for April, for example, more than 150-million tons of cargo was transported by road between January and March 2021, compared to just 40-million moved by rail over the same period.
“Our goods and supplies don’t just miraculously appear in supermarkets, and the trucks they come in don’t drive themselves either. The people responsible for driving those trucks are as vital as the goods they deliver because without drivers, our supply chains will come to a grinding halt,” says Arnoux Maré, Managing Director at Innovative Learning Solutions.
He warns the disruption to supply chains in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal during July’s riots highlighted the need for a reliable, efficient transportation industry, most people glossed over the other part of that equation – having qualified, experienced drivers.
“As of 2021, there is a shortage of approximately 3 000 truck and bus drivers in the South African transport sector. As a result, many companies are recruiting unskilled and unqualified drivers, placing road users at risk.
“Most concerning, however, is the fact this shortage means employers simply cannot allow their pool of drivers any time off. Drivers are required to be behind the wheel every available moment, despite all the safety consequences that follow.”
The shortage of qualified truck drivers is not unique to South Africa, as countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom are also grappling with the same challenge. These nations have resorted to recruiting drivers from all over the globe, including South Africa. However, this appetite for expatriate drivers is furthering fuelling shortages in South Africa’s supply chain.
“Without skilled, committed truck drivers, much of the economy and life as we know it in South Africa, would come to a grinding halt. Trained and qualified drivers mitigate accidents, curb losses and ensure the country’s residents receive their essential supplies without delay, all while contributing to the economy,” concludes Maré.