Drivers and mobile plant operators drive and tend trains and motor vehicles; drive, operate and monitor industrial and agricultural machinery and equipment; or execute deck duties on board ships and other water-borne crafts.
- Drivers and mobile plant operators drive and tend trains and motor vehicles; drive, operate and monitor industrial and agricultural machinery and equipment; or execute deck duties on board ships and other water-borne crafts.
- The five key skills for drivers and mobile plant operators are problem solving, job-specific skills, teamwork, communication and learning.
- There is a strong gender imbalance in the workforce, in favour of male employees.
- The occupational group faces fairly widespread recruitment difficulties, due to hardships of the nature of jobs, regarding working hours worked and pay levels.
- The number of drivers and mobile plant operators employed across the EU-28 remained stable over the past decade; by 2025, a small decline (about 5%) is foreseen.
- They are a shortage occupation in three EU Member States; seven EU countries report them as a surplus occupation.
Who are they?
Drivers and mobile plant operators 1 drive and tend trains and motor vehicles; drive, operate and monitor industrial and agricultural machinery and equipment; or execute deck duties on board ships and other water-borne crafts. The main subgroups are: locomotive engine drivers and related workers; car, van and motorcycle drivers; heavy truck and bus drivers; mobile plant operators; and ships' deck crews and related workers.
There is a strong gender imbalance in the workforce, in favour of male employees. The occupational group faces fairly widespread recruitment difficulties, due to hardships of the nature of jobs, regarding working hours worked and pay levels (for example, heavy truck and bus drivers 2).
What skills do they need?
According to Cedefop’s European skills and jobs survey (ESJS), the key 5 skills for drivers and mobile plant operators are problem solving, job-specific skills, teamwork, communication and learning. These skills could support employees in this occupation to also tackle anticipated future skill challenges (see drivers of change below).
Figure 1: Most important skills required for drivers and mobile plant operators
In addition to that, drivers for professional bus, truck and taxis need to hold specific qualifications and/or permissions from local/national authorities to exercise the profession. For example, to become a professional truck, bus and coach driver one needs to have the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC), a professional driving qualification 3.
Where are they mostly in demand?
The labour market dynamics for this occupation differ across EU Member States:
According to Cedefop, drivers and mobile plant operators are highly demanded (i.e. they are in shortage) in Croatia, Lithuania and Hungary; however a surplus of them has been reported in Ireland, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Austria, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.
Figure 2: Shortages and surpluses for drivers and mobile plant operators across the EU
What are the trends for the future? 4
The number of drivers and mobile plant operators employed across the EU-28 remained stable over the past decade; by 2025, a small decline (about 5%) is foreseen. However, job openings will be available, but only due to the high replacement demand 5. More information can be found here.
Drivers and mobile plant operators are traditionally medium-level qualified, as about two thirds of them will be between 2015 and 2025. The most significant trend in the next decade will be the replacement of low qualified workers with high qualified ones, as the latter will account for about 10% of the occupation, compared to 6% in 2005-2015.
Although employment in land transport will shrink by around 9%, two fifths of these workers will still be working in the sector by 2025, sustaining its place as the main employer of this occupation. Employment is expected to decrease in 2015-2025 in all big employers-sectors: about one in eight drivers and plant operators will be working in wholesale and retail (12% decrease); while warehousing and postal services and construction will employ about 8% each, with demand been down by 8% as well, compared to 2015. 3.5% of workers in this occupation will work in agriculture that will experience the highest decrease in employment levels (20%). Worth-mentioning increase is expected only in sectors with small representation of the occupation (around 2% of the workforce), such as accommodation and catering where drivers will almost double; and health (about 8% increase).
Which drivers of change will affect their skills?
Drivers and mobile plant operators are a homogeneous group, differentiated mainly by the vehicle they use (such as vehicles for road transport, trains, industrial, agricultural or ship machinery). Rapid technological, societal and economic changes are expected to affect the nature of their job tasks, and therefore the skills needed.
- Advances in technology, in terms of new tools and software and automation/robots will affect all sub-occupations in this group from different angles:
- plant operators and those handling machines (such as drivers working in warehousing, forestry or construction) will increasingly be challenged by more advanced/computer-controlled machines and vehicles. Knowledge of and familiarity with new technologies and advanced machines will be critical, as automation increasingly infiltrates warehousing.
- Technological advancements in land transport have already affected commercial transportation; for example, taxi drivers have adopted GPS devices and mobile applications that improve the client’s experience. Automation of vehicles (e.g. railway brake, signal and switch operators) have already limited the role of some drivers. Although they are still at planning phase, automated/self-driving cars are expected to flourish in the next decade, substantially changing the skills profile of taxi and other commercial vehicles drivers.
However, more developments are underway, expected to revolutionise transport and mobility: the ‘platooning in mobility’ will change the role of drivers. Truck platooning regards “a number of trucks equipped with state-of-the-art driving support systems – one closely following the other. This forms a platoon with the trucks driven by smart technology, and mutually communicating.” 6 Platooning is expected to improve traffic safety, regulate traffic flows, and reduce fuel consumption through constant speed cruise 7. Truck drivers will therefore need new skills in engineering and IT to be able to drive these “smart trucks”.
- The strong rise in demand for environmentally sustainable mobility will emphasize the importance of green skills. Implications for the role of drivers and mobile plant operators can be expected both in terms of the type of vehicles/machines they use and how efficiently they use them 8. For example, commercial vehicle drivers are now required to monitor their driving skills and drive more efficiently. Environmental considerations also influence trends in employment. The demand for bus and train drivers could increase as a consequence of efforts to promote and encourage the use of public transport to lower emissions 9.
The Italian National Association for Travellers’ Drivers (ANAV) and the Italian Association of Local Public Transportation Companies (ASSTRA) started cooperating in 2013 and launched the Driving Style Academy, which provides classes for professional drivers to cope with the new standards and requirements relating to ‘green’ mobility. The training includes both theoretical classes and on-the-road training, and aims at teaching a low-emissions driving style (so-called Eco-Drive), that would benefit the life of citizens, especially in urban areas.
How can these skill needs be met?
Most drivers and mobile plant operator’s work in sectors where new business models are being shaped due to technological change, focus on environmental challenges and regulation. Due to these new paradigms, job tasks will increasingly depend on more ICT-based and specialised equipment and products, especially for those working in the land transport sector. Future jobs will therefore require new and more advanced skills in engineering and ICT, as well as understanding and handling of specific software and basic understanding of new technological advancements such as automated cars and platooning.
Simultaneously, the growing interdisciplinary elements of transport activities (such as combining new technological tools with safety rules) will also require these professionals to develop or adjust their skills to safety rules in a more automated workplace. An update of outdated ICT and sector-specific technology knowledge is therefore necessary, especially targeting older workers. Drivers also require good numeracy skills for cash handling, machine operation, time management, and processing information and data 10.
Despite automation, team working, customer service and interpersonal skills will continue to be integral to all jobs, especially for those working in warehouses, plants, construction sites etc. Foreign language capacities will also be important for constructing a more competitive skill profile in a globalised market. Training plant operators to new machines or software should also consistently cover safety issues that will continue to be relevant even in more automated workspaces, to minimise accident risks and ensure compliance to local or EU regulations.
Notably, some of plant operators’ job tasks are particularly vulnerable to replacement by automation. Skills will follow tasks in shifting significantly to ‘smart’ machine handling, programming and maintaining. Increased complexity in warehousing/logistics jobs will increase the demand for high qualifications and strong(er) technical, engineering, mathematical skills. Dedicated and recurring training could satisfy these skill needs.
 Defined as ISCO 08 groups 83 Drivers and mobile plant operators. ILO (2012) International Standard Classification of Occupations ISCO-08. More information on the occupation can be found here.
 Hege, A, Perko, M, Johnson, A, Ch, Yu, Sönmez, S, & Apostolopoulos, Y, 2015 ‘Surveying the impact of work hours and schedules on commercial motor vehicle driver sleep’. Safety and health at work. 6(2):104-113. viewed 30 May 2016 doi:10.1016/j.shaw.2015.02.001.
 The need to replace workers leaving a profession for various reasons, such as retirement. More information on replacement demand and how it drives employment across sectors can be found on the Skills Panorama here.
 International Labour Organization 2012, Working towards sustainable development, Geneva: ILO, 2012
 Cedefop 2009, Future skill needs for the green economy, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union