South Africa’s shortage of truck drivers could become a risk

South Africa’s shortage of truck drivers could become a risk

The July 2021 unrest in South Africa brought the threat of protest action to supply chains into focus. However, a less obvious, but an equally dangerous risk, is the lack of qualified truck drivers in South Africa.

The transportation of goods and products is integral to the functioning of South Africa’s economy. As demonstrated during July’s unrest, any pause in the movement of essential goods from suppliers could lead to calamitous shortages of vital supplies and food, affecting all South Africans.

But where this unrest brought the threat of protest action to supply chains into focus, a less obvious but potentially equally devastating risk, is the lack of qualified truck drivers in South Africa.

Stellenbosch University and World Bank figures estimate that South Africa’s logistics sector is responsible for as much as 11.8% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, emphasising the importance of this crucial sector to the local economy.

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. The people driving those trucks are as vital as the goods that they deliver because without drivers, our supply chains will come to a grinding halt,” says Arnoux Maré, Managing Director at Innovative Learning Solutions.

Maré warns that although 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 3000 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 that this shortage means that 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 fueling shortages in South Africa’s supply chain.

To counter the looming dearth of qualified drivers, Maré therefore established Innovative Learning Solutions, a driver training facility. The centre originally aimed to assist Code 14 truck and bus drivers but has since expanded to include Code 10 drivers such as taxi, ensuring that these drivers receive the same high-quality training. Since its launch in April 2020, during the height of Covid-19, Innovative Learning Solutions has already trained more than 8000 drivers.

“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 that the country’s residents receive their essential supplies without delay, all while contributing to the economy,” concludes Maré.

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