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Sweden’s ‘Gymnasieskola’ An Answer to Our Driver Shortage?

The following article – authored by Ellen Voie, president of Women in Trucking – is an interesting exploration of how Sweden’s education system provides young student the option and skills to prepare them for a vocational occupation. There are certainly age-based barriers in North America that restrict developing high school students into truck drivers, but the idea of giving young people entering high school the option of being trained in an “automotive and transportation” discipline is nonetheless an interesting idea that could one day have implications for the driver shortage:

Originally published in Fleet Owner magazine:

The common perception by the general public is that truck drivers often pursue the career as a last resort. Maybe they were laid off from a construction or factory job and they responded to a recruiting ad to obtain a CDL and become a professional driver. This perception isn’t entirely misleading.

The problem we have in the United States  is that we are limited in focusing on teenagers as drivers because of the interstate restrictions that require a driver to be at least 21 years old to transport loads across state lines. Add to that a two-year experience requirement for many insurance providers and you’ve got a work force that starts at the age of 23.  There are ways to encourage children to consider a career in the trucking industry, especially as professional drivers. Other countries are ahead of us in this effort.

In Sweden, education is mandatory for children ages seven to sixteen. Although there are classes for younger children, compulsory comprehensive school, named “Grundskola,” begins at the age of six or seven. While most schools are publicly funded, there are a few independent schools in Sweden that might have a different orientation than their government counterparts.

Once the student has completed nine years of primary school, they can elect to enter secondary school, named “Gymnasieskola.” In this environment, they are given the option to prepare for higher education or to receive a vocation education. During this three-year education, the students are further divided into programs, or different educational pursuits. Those who choose vocational courses will receive at least fifteen weeks of workplace training over the three years. While core courses are taught to all students in “Gymnasieskola,” the student is guided into program specific classes. One of those vocational training options is in “automotive and transportation.”

Sweden, like most of the transportation industries, was experiencing a need for professional drivers. The percentage of females was very low; estimated at about two percent. With smaller trucks, shorter routes, and more home time, the job should have been more attractive to both men and women.

However, efforts to address this need through secondary education have been successful, especially in northern Sweden at the Lapland Gymnasieskola. Here, girls are guided into traditionally male careers at a rate that exceeds the boys, with forty to sixty percent of them preparing for jobs such as mining and transportation.  Female drivers are valued for their aversion to risk and their exceptional treatment of the vehicles, where, according to a TV Gallivere article, “they treat the large vehicles better than male colleagues, they force them not as hard and take [fewer] chances.”

Bill Rehn, of TYA Sweden, the Vocational Training and Working Environment Council, is excited about the efforts to encourage girls to consider careers in trucking. “We now have eighteen percent of women in the secondary school for transport truck driving and that is very good.” He added, “Twelve percent of the employment of new truck drivers in Sweden [are] women.”

With a projected 100,000 new drivers needed annually, we must to reconsider the way we recruit and train the next generation of drivers. Encouraging the next generation to look at careers as professional drivers by prompting them into vocational programs during their high school years instead seems to be working.

Maybe Sweden’s model provides a needed solution to the future driver shortage.

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