Driver shortage and its solutions are the same the world over

Rolf Lockwood

Misery loves company, or so people say. If that’s true, Canadian drivers and fleet managers might be at least a little glad to know that the scarcity of safe truck parking has been identified as a serious issue right around the world.

In fact, according to the IRU, otherwise known as the International Road Transport Union, that scarcity is a major part of the “challenging working conditions” suffered by drivers from Russia to Mexico, Europe to China. And improving those conditions – parking in particular – is seen as a key to resolving the driver shortage that’s as severe in the rest of the world as it is here.

According to a broad survey done between October 2020 and January 2021, the shortage is serious and about to get worse.

European truck driver
Truck driver shortages continue around the world, despite economic slowdowns associated with Covid-19, IRU reports. (Photo: istock)

The organization was founded 70 years ago to help war-torn Europe rebuild devastated trade and commercial links. It’s now active in more than 100 countries, having longstanding partnerships with the United Nations, the European Union, and Eurasian institutions, though little connection to us and our friends to the south.

Yep, I’m talking about the “driver shortage” again. I know some of you are going to yell at me for even uttering that phrase, but it’s real. The thing is, it isn’t occurring just in Canada or the U.S. It’s a global phenomenon, generated in large part by simple demographics – existing drivers are getting older and ready to retire but they’re not being replaced by young people.

“Despite reduced demand due to Covid-19, there is still an alarming shortage of drivers,” says the organization. “Surveying 777 road transport companies from 23 countries, the IRU found that [the] driver shortage was most acute in Eurasia, where last year 20% of driver positions were not filled. China was the least affected country in 2020 with only 4% of jobs open. Elsewhere, [the] driver shortage was less serious in 2020 than 2019 due to the pandemic. In Europe, unfilled driver positions fell by around three quarters, from 24% to 7% for truck drivers.”

But European companies are expecting a 17% shortfall in drivers this year, 18% in Mexico, 20% in Turkey, 24% in Russia, and almost one third in Uzbekistan, says the IRU.

Reasons for the shortage

The survey also investigated the reasons for the driver shortage, finding that a lack of trained drivers was the main cause in all regions (38% of respondents). It also cited those “challenging working conditions,” further exacerbated by the pandemic.

As in North America, but worse, the survey also noted difficulties attracting women and young people to the profession.

Only 2% of truck drivers globally are women, says the IRU (compared to 3.5% here and 6.0% in the U.S.), and all countries surveyed saw the percentage of women truck drivers fall last year. Perhaps not surprisingly that percentage was just 0.3% in Russia last year, 0.1% in China.

The percentage of truck drivers under 25 fell nearly everywhere in 2020, from already low levels down to 5% in Europe and Russia, 6% in Mexico and 7% in Turkey.

“With the average age of professional truck drivers globally now close to 50, and steadily growing older each year, this demographic time bomb will only get worse without action to reduce minimum driver age,” says the IRU.

Sound familiar? We’re getting calls for similar action here in North America, which has been getting mixed reviews at best.

Minimum driving ages

With youth unemployment well over 30% in some countries, attracting young people to the sector should be simple, according to the IRU report. But the minimum age for professional drivers is 21 or higher in many places, creating a large gap between leaving school and taking the wheel.

“Governments should set the minimum age for trained drivers at 18, with training starting from 17, in order to unlock the full potential of the profession as a global job engine,” the IRU suggests.

“More investment in safe and secure truck parking areas to fix the current massive global shortfall would make longhaul driver conditions safer and get more people behind the wheel, especially women,” it adds.

“Training and certification remain vital to attract and develop skilled drivers, especially with new technology, safety expectations and compliance standards.”

Note that word “certification”. How many of us have urged that we create some sort of professional designation for drivers here in Canada? It remains an untapped but potentially very valuable tool.

It warms my little heart to see that the IRU report acknowledged that drivers around the world are poorly treated at delivery sites and borders due to the temporary controls required by Covid-19 restrictions, which it says had a negative impact on the attractiveness of the profession last year.

And look at this statement: working conditions will improve when drivers are treated with more respect.

“The solutions are there, but if governments do not act now to ease access to profession, improve working conditions and upskill the workforce, the driver shortage will continue to disrupt and eventually irreparably damage vital mobility networks and supply chains,” concluded the IRU report.

Folks, we’re not alone.

Read: Truck driver shortage a worldwide phenomenon

 

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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  • In Mexico and in Russia and in Turkey many people would consider truck driving, but in all three countries I have seen corruption among the police
    Truck drivers are expected to give money to the police out of a $300 U A per week wage. The lack of safe parking with showers and Internet is much worse than in the U S I. If those countries paid $12 U A per hour and the companies would pay for parking in safe lots that have security at $10 U S per night the drivers would not be leaving to work in other parts of the world. From those countries. Same if drivers in other countries were paid hourly at about $21.00 to $23.00 U S in their money U K Europe, Canada and the U S along with safe parking and overtime after 10 hours per day plus a hotel room for resets or isolation and better medical care and not having so many in homeless shelters when they get sick and injured. Note a group of churches is paying for a group home in in Ontario Canada for injured and sick truck drivers. They use volunteers often high school age students to help run it. This looks very bad for the trucking industry. I am working with a nonprofit organization to set up a 9 bedrooms group home for up to 15 drivers. Only 2 trucking companies have expressed interest in supporting the cost of running it despite many people saying it badly needed.

  • Very disappointed by your comment on the driver shortage. You stated that the governments must act to ease the professionalism. This clearly is an understatement. The trucking company is to blame for all this and not the government, As governments merely have compliance and regulations that any company in business must follow.
    I strongly feel trucking companies not doing their due diligence in attracting or maintaining their current operators, drivers, etc. I had seen this in the past and continue to see and listen to younger (48-Year-olds) drivers that “companies” don’t respect their current drivers. Management thinks that they will attract better drivers, but only sit on their butts and do nothing about, and still cry the blues… Hey, wake up management…

  • The younger generation (myself included) has different priorities that revolve around lifestyle. Most of these priorities are not in alignment with a trucking career. Many of these jobs require significant time away from home, unhealthy eating habits, shorter lifespans, and aso lack the “glamour” that attracts youth like many other careers. I give truckers a lot of credit for what they do, but the money is not worth everything you give up. I could make the same argument of the trades, but at least the pay is starting to increase in some of those areas like plumbing and electrical.

  • I FIND IT hard to believe there is a driver shortage as I have taken a leave from the business as a result of Covid yet there is little or no delay in delivery of online purchases