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A bus with 50 new truck drivers? “I would probably hire them all”

Anja Blieder-Hinterlang runs a business that is typical of the German transport industry.

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A bus with 50 new truck drivers? “I would probably hire them all”

Anja Blieder-Hinterlang runs a business that is typical of the German transport industry. Your company from Hüttenberg in Hesse transports gravel and earth to slag heaps or construction companies in Germany, but also raw materials such as copper and scrap steel to steelworks or scrap dealers. Bulk goods from secondary raw materials is the business of the resolute entrepreneur, currently up to 22 trucks are in daily use in long-distance transport. Her mother Heidrun Blieder, who is still helping out in the office at the age of 76, founded the family business half a century ago.

When walking through the immaculate depot in the commercial area in Hüttenberg, Hesse, six trucks with the company name “Blieder Transporte” on the side catch your eye. It's afternoon and too early to call it a day and the vehicles don't need to be repaired, as the company's locksmith in the workshop replies to this question. "I can't use all the trucks at the moment because I don't have the drivers," says Anja Blieder-Hinterlang. Sickness, holidays and vacancies are the reasons why almost a third of its truck fleet cannot be used. On a few days, the 57-year-old boss drives the 40-ton truck herself, and her brother occasionally gets behind the wheel of the truck.

Anja Blieder-Hinterlang would hire at least five applicants immediately. "And if there were ten, I would buy new vehicles," says the boss. Instead, she currently has to cancel freight requests. She tried many things. She has also trained apprentices to become professional drivers. But the young men quickly went to a larger company, she says. While in earlier years it was the low transport prices that threatened its existence, now it is the lack of drivers and excessive state bureaucracy that are making it difficult for it to survive.

The transport industry in this country is fragmented. Around 70 percent of the companies have five or fewer trucks in use. Anyone who has several dozen vehicles on the road is already one of the larger companies in the industry. The truck fleets that are on the road for corporations such as Schenker, DHL, Dachser or Kühne Nagel are largely provided by these medium-sized companies. Or these companies use internationally active subcontractors from primarily Eastern European countries. In any case, the industry giants only have a small number of their own trucks, even if their names are on the tarpaulins of the fleets.

Road transport is extremely important in Germany with a share of 72 percent. "The share will rise to 80 percent in the coming years because private consumption will increase and shipments will become smaller," says Dirk Engelhardt, spokesman for the board of the Federal Association of Road Haulage, Logistics and Disposal (BGL). In fact, the Institute of German Economics has calculated that only eight percent of the goods transported in Germany are on routes longer than 300 kilometers. Transport by freight train can only be economically viable from this distance. Below this distance, the truck is significantly cheaper and also faster.

But how long the transport industry will continue to function as it does today is an open question. Because the problems are piling up in the middle class, which is so important for truck fleets. At the top is the driver shortage: in Germany there is a shortage of around 80,000 drivers for heavy trucks alone. Around 30,000 professional drivers from the baby boomer generation retire every year, but only around 15,000 young drivers follow each year. This does not even include growth in transport volumes.

For a long time, foreign countries helped. But getting truck drivers from Poland, for example, is becoming increasingly difficult for medium-sized companies. The neighboring country needs the drivers themselves. In addition, there are cumbersome regulations from German authorities, for example on driving licenses for non-EU applicants. Driving licenses from third countries such as Morocco are not recognized according to EU regulations. The cost of money and time for additional training for these job candidates is large and an obstacle for the freight forwarders.

All this makes the work for Anja Blieder-Hinterlang, who trained as a freight forwarding clerk and completed a degree in logistics at the German Foreign Trade and Transport Academy in Bremen, increasingly difficult. After all, she needs planning security for her business. She has to replace her tractor units every seven years, and the odometer then shows 800,000 kilometers.

A new model currently costs a good 110,000 euros. The steel semi-trailers, as trailers are correctly called in the trade, last ten years and can be purchased as a new vehicle for half that amount. Blieder Transporte only uses its own trucks and its own employees. The drivers earn between 2,500 and 3,500 euros in gross monthly wages. In addition, there are tax-free daily allowances of around 500 euros per month for working on weekdays.

A few kilometers further in the Hessian neighborhood the dimensions are completely different, but the problems are similar. On the approximately 100-hectare site of the former US barracks Ayers in Langgöns-Niederkleen, transport entrepreneur Wolfgang Bork has developed an industrial park called "Magna Park Rhein-Main" over the years. The own forwarding company under the family name spreads out over 40 hectares and has been growing for years. A new workshop and a huge cold store are currently being built. Only a light yellow plastered church building reminds of the time of the US soldiers stationed here. The church is empty, but entrepreneur Bork prefers not to tear it down.

Bork's fleet includes around 300 of its own Mercedes trucks. All bear the mark "GI" for Gießen. On the long-haul routes, food retailers, pharmaceutical companies or machine manufacturers, for example, drive. Because Bork can currently only employ around 380 drivers and has to cope with a number of shortfalls, only 250 trucks are in use every day.

About 60 percent of the employed professional drivers at Bork are Poles. They drive through Germany for three weeks for the forwarding company and then spend a week in their Polish home. “The source from Poland is drying up. Due to the constant harmonization of living and working conditions, the home country is becoming more and more attractive for the drivers,” says junior boss Steffen Bork, Wolfgang Bork’s only son.

Only a quarter of the drivers at Bork are German. The entire workforce is spread over 30 nations. "It's becoming increasingly difficult to bind truck drivers to the company in the long term," says the junior boss. The 44-year-old runs the company together with his father and brother-in-law Gregor Werum. "If a bus with 50 new truck drivers stopped in front of our door, I would probably hire them all if they were suitable," says Steffen Bork.

In the summer months there are always poaching. At rest areas, companies offer bonuses of up to 3,000 euros if a driver changes to them. “This is an extremely dynamic and unhealthy development. A spiral that is now turning dangerously fast,” says junior boss Bork. In recent years, the company has reacted to this with its own wage rounds and increased the monthly wage between 100 euros and 250 euros. According to the information, his starting salary is 2750 euros per month.

Forwarding customers are reacting cautiously to this. "It is true that many customers understand price increases due to cost increases much more than in the past," says Bork. However, only part of it, if at all, can be passed on. After all, customers themselves are under enormous cost pressure due to the shortage of skilled workers and the explosion in energy prices.

Entrepreneur Bork is still struggling with another issue. He is bothered by the poor reputation of truck drivers in public and the lack of political support for his trade. "We shouldn't transport anything for three days so that people can see what the truck driver is delivering," says Bork, taking a sip from his Red Bull can.

He himself got his truck driver's license with the Bundeswehr, then completed dual training with the logistics company Rhenus and studied economics at the University of Trier. From his point of view, politicians have these most urgent tasks: they have to build 40,000 additional parking spaces at the motorway rest areas. And it must facilitate access to the driving profession by recognizing foreign driving licenses.

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