Truck driver shortage a worldwide phenomenon

John G Smith

Fleets are struggling to hire the truck drivers they need despite economic slowdowns associated with Covid-19, and not just in Canada.

The IRU — an international supply chain group that counts members such as the Canadian Trucking Alliance and American Trucking Associations – is reporting driver shortages around the world.

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

Some countries are struggling with even bigger shortages than those experienced in Canada.

A recent survey of almost 800 road transportation companies from 23 countries found the truck driver shortage was most severe in Eurasia last year, when 20% of truck driving jobs went unfilled. In contrast, a mere 4% of truck driving jobs went unfilled in China.

(Illustration: IRU)

Aging workforce, limited parking

The organization also cited recruiting challenges such as an aging workforce, a lack of safe and secure truck parking, and struggles to attract youth and women alike.

“It’s not surprising to hear,” says Angela Splinter, CEO of Trucking HR Canada. “For the most part, we have those similar challenges.”

Trucking HR Canada data identified 20,000 unfilled truck driving jobs in 2020, and it projects 23,000 vacancies by 2023. Based on about 300,000 truck driving jobs last year, that puts the Canadian vacancy rate at more than 6%.

“Maybe we can start looking at more best practices on an international scale,” Splinter says, referring to the ongoing search for solutions.

“The solutions are there.”

Umberto de Pretto, IRU secretary general

“[The] driver shortage threatens the functioning of road transport, supply chains, trade, the economy, and ultimately employment and citizens’ welfare. This is not an issue that can wait. Action needs to be taken now,” says IRU Secretary General Umberto de Pretto.

“The solutions are there, but if governments do not act now to ease access to [the] 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.”

Europe’s truck driver shortage eased somewhat in the face of pandemic-dampened demand, with the IRU reporting that openings plunged from 24% in 2019 to 7% in 2020.

This year, surveyed European companies are forecasting a 17% shortfall, compared to 18% in Mexico, 20% in Turkey, 24% in Russia, and almost 33% in Uzbekistan.

(Illustration: IRU)

Shortage of women drivers

Thirty-eight percent of those who participated in the survey said a lack of trained drivers was the main cause of the shortage. But challenging work conditions made worse by the pandemic, and trouble attracting women and young people to the job, were also identified as barriers.

A mere 2% of the world’s truck drivers are women, the IRU reports.

About 3.5% of Canada’s truck drivers are women, Trucking HR Canada previously reported. South of the border, the U.S. Department of Labor says that 7.8% of truck drivers are women.

As for youth, the share of truck drivers under 25 reached as low as 5% in Europe and Russia, 6% in Mexico, and 7% in Turkey.

That situation is more acute in Canada. A mere 3.4% of truck drivers here are under the age of 25, while 31% are 55 or older, Trucking HR Canada says.

(Illustration: IRU)

Aging truck drivers

The average age of the world’s truck drivers has now reached 50, and continues to grow older each year, the IRU survey finds. And it adds the “demographic time bomb will only get worse without action to reduce minimum driver age.”

“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,” it says.

The IRU is promoting strategies such as lowering the minimum driving age to 18, and investing in safe and secure truck parking areas to fix the current massive global shortfall. It also adds that working conditions will improve when drivers are treated with more respect.

Quebec recently announced that it is continuing a program that allows 18-year-old truck driver trainees with the support of a related internship.

Legislation re-introduced in the U.S. would allow truck drivers under the age of 21 to cross state lines. Forty-nine states already allow drivers to obtain a CDL.

The IRU surveyed 77 companies from 23 countries between October 2020 and January 2021.

John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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  • In the 1970s a local truck driver could pay for a house in London in 2 years gross pay in the G T A are 3 years in downtown Toronto less than 4 years. A truck driver working 4 days a week made the same money as a teacher or per hour a game warden. Truck drivers wages have went from 4 times a high-school students wages to less than twice. With the parking shortage and E logs we are seeing tench foot in truck drivers and the homeless. Instead of E logs hourly pay at the same rate a fireman or R P N with overtime after 10 hours per day including dock time. Also all over the world plan for treatment of sick or injured truck drivers. A group is trying have a nonprofit help with the return transport of sick or injured truck drivers and a group home to put them in . Nobody wants to pay for the cost of sick or injured truck drivers and that is why so many end up in homeless shelters.

    • Wages need to go way up but with the competition for moving cheaper freight and still keep profitability that aspect needs to change. Bottom line is there needs to be control measures put in place for rating which will allow market stability in being able to offer better wages to attract drivers and also level out the playing field amoungst competing transportation companies to be based more on service rather than who will haul it for the lowest rates.

  • Trucking industry keeps looking at what demographic can we sucker into the driver seat for crap pay next. This isn’t the answer. You can’t ask owner operators or company drivers to work for free sitting at docks anymore. Let’s start with a minimum $100,000 a year to be in the truck over the road. Start paying hourly, pay for nights stayed in the truck, etc. Layover pay can no longer be heres $100 bucks for resetting over the road. Then treat them like human beings that also have a family to take care of at home. Now we will probably start getting somewhere.

  • I don’t believe there is a driver shortage. I think there is a shortage of good companies to work for, and the working condtions are terrible. There aren’t enough truckstops or facilities for truckers. I am a 52 year old trucker and I won’t allow my kids to even think about having a career in trucking. There are too many rules and regulations. If you make a simple mistake or error you could be fined a week or even a months worth of wages, absolutley ridiculous. Total turn off. I tell all young people to stay away. It’s really sad.

  • Want solutions?
    1) Increase pay and add benefits.
    2) Increase safe parking areas. And make it illegal for cars and RVs to take truck spots in parking lots. Also designate areas for Bob tails. Nothing Pisses me off more than seeing 5 or 6 Bob tails taking full spots!
    3) Constantly remind shippers, receivers and the public that we deserve respect on the job. Stop treating us like shit! Remind them that without truck drivers, they would have nothing!

  • Don’t use communist countries as an example for comparison of driver spots filled. We all know that if communists need something they will force their people to do it or there will be bad consequences for not complying.

  • Hello
    There is no shortage of drivers. There is a problem with compensation of the drivers. I mean wage stagnation. Today truck driver makes same as 20-25 years ago. How come there are regulations regarding safety, hours of service but there are no regulations about how much driver or owner operator should make in order to cover all of the expenses. Government does nothing to help, the taxes are rolling in..that’s all that they care about.
    There is no truckers union so company can pay what they want which is below cost of living. And
    THERE MUST BE STRIKE OF ALL DRIVERS….WE ALL NEED TO STOP.
    Speaking as owner operator of 15 years.

  • You guys hit many nails square on the head… and the list goes on and on. My husband is a long time experienced driver at 57 and runs the mountain highways between Alberta & BC. He is clearing little more than he did between 2012 – 2015, shuffling sea cans to & from railyards in the city. Attracting young guys as new drivers WTF!? I know some pretty good seasoned female drivers, but YOUNG (inexperienced) guys? Those are the ones racing downhill on the Coquihalla lighting their brakes on fire, flipping B-trains of lumber like toothpicks in a tornado, not knowing when to put chains on in the winter, not knowing when to slow down, passing & then slowing down spraying rocks, or staying beside you & blocking regular traffic. Why?? Because their brains aren’t done growing and drivers aren’t trained for highway, or mountain driving. Let’s not forget the tight timeline expectations of a company that drivers should get from point A to B hauling 80,000 lbs, in the same time as a car. Young guns listen up – Trucking is a thankless job & we’ll be safer on the road without you.

  • Driver shortage is non existent! The ability of companies to stand up for drivers, now there is a shortage! Lying cheating load brokers, total disregard or accountability by shippers or receivers to stick to appointment times, DOT promising to go after shippers/receivers if they hold a truck more then two hours! Has anyone witnessed this yet? NOPE ! And never will either! So companies just want more drivers to cover for their customers total disregard, because ya know, drivers are disposable, if they put up a fuss for sitting 40% of their day, next driver please! We need more drivers to stand for whats right! If not loaded/unloaded within 2 hours= drive away, never agree to a layover unless it pays minimum $25. For every hour the truck is parked! And company pays for motel ! And wake up those of you searching for a driver job! Never ever fall for the highest per mile offers, unless they guarantee in writing a minimum of 2500/3000 miles/ week! If they can’t , go work at McDonalds and flip burgers because you’ll make the same in 40 hours as being a driver being out 60 hours and be home every night! So to say there is a driver shortage is false! Mors like there is a steering wheel holding puppet shortage! Thats my 2 cents worth! Cheers

  • Start in the high schools give job fairs in high schools give out ride alongs on day trippers, in summer vacation.
    Everyone wants 2 years experience, where do think kids are going to get that if when getting there licence they can’t get a kid??
    Companies hire foreign drivers but you would not know how much driving they have done.
    I started late in life driving but the trucking industry is slow to make changes, there is not enough parking at night anywhere, at a big truck stop you might have 100 to 200 trucks 4 showers or 6 not many for the drivers.
    At truck stops or in your truck it is not geared to young drivers, for spare time they like a bit of game time on the internet that is how they communicate with other young people.
    The oil industry had to rethink there camps for younger people because their not putting up with the conditions that old people put up with
    Michael

    • The whole industry needs to change. Free Internet at shippers and trucking company terminals. Three trucking companies in Windsor On. Bought. 51 room motel to put their truck drivers up and owner ops when trucks are being repaired or waiting on loads. A local driver gets the load and brings it to them so they have fresh hours to cross the border with. We need the Ontario gov and the O T A to bring in minimum standards of treatment of truck drivers and somewhere for sick or injured truck drivers to stay.. thanks for your comments.

  • Been hearing about the mythical driver shortage for 25 years. It that was the case, driver’s pay would be way up and loads would be sitting on the dock but that’s not happening. I gave up long haul 13 years ago for a local Ontario job. Home every night and making six figures. Guess what, my company has no problem finding and keeping drivers. Some guys been there over 40 years.

  • Hi John-60 plus years in the Trucking business and my opinion “LOW MONETARY” return is major portion relating to driver shortage. Corporate “shippers” have been in control of freight rates for too many years. Owner Operator’s are not united so they work for minimal return on investment and time involved. – Look forward to your opinion regarding this challenge in the industry. — Thanks – John W. – Vancouver, BC.