Faced with a chronic shortage of truck drivers, logistics firm Deutsche Post DHL Group is trialing a new scheme to get more people behind the wheel so it can keep goods flowing across Europe, especially at peak times like Christmas.
A lack of drivers is already causing delays and rising costs for businesses in North America and Europe, with consumer goods firm Henkel and retailers like Walmart, Kohl's Corp and TJX all reporting problems.
DHL Freight is trying to make the job more attractive by offering drivers well-paid contracts, long-term career prospects, more varied work and schedules that allow them to get home to their families in the evening.
“I don't just drive, I also work regularly in the warehouse, doing stock duties, which makes it more varied,” said Patrick Klankert, a 27-year-old, who is one of 30 drivers DHL has hired under the pilot scheme.
High staff and transport costs forced the German postal and logistics group to issue a profit warning in June and launch a restructuring program at its Post - eCommerce - Parcel (PeP) division, which employs 184,000 staff.
Walmart, which has seen its profit margins dented by higher freight costs, said in September it plans to double its spending on attracting and retaining drivers for its US fleet of 6,500 trucks, including offering referral bonuses of up to $1,500.
Self-driving trucks could ease the situation but it is unclear how fast that will happen, leading the International Transport Forum think tank to predict a shortfall of up to 800,000 drivers by 2030 in the United States and Europe.
And the prospect of the rise of autonomous trucks is not helping the industry to recruit a new generation of drivers.
While DHL's post and parcel division employs its own delivery staff and pays them according to collective wage deals, the freight and forwarding unit operates an “asset-light” strategy based on brokering services from third parties.
DHL Freight's reliance on subcontractors has led to problems in peak seasons when drivers have failed to turn up for shifts, causing knock-on effects for the entire supply chain.
“That's the backbone. If one of the trucks comes in late, the whole system fails,” said Tim Scharwath, global chief executive of DHL's global forwarding business for air, ocean and overland freight.
The dearth of drivers has been exacerbated in DHL's home market of Germany by the ending of compulsory military service in 2011, as the army used to train many future truckers.
There were 195,000 open positions in the German logistics industry in the third quarter, up 19 percent on last year, with a particular demand for drivers of trucks and fork-lifts, according to a survey by private training provider WBS Gruppe.
“At Christmas time, the warehouse and logistics industry is booming and more jobs are being advertised than for a long time,” said WBS Gruppe head Joachim Giese.