World was short more than 2.6 million truck drivers in 2021, IRU says

Trucking operations around the world are struggling to find the truck drivers they need, while women and youth continue to be largely under-represented in the roles.

The IRU – a global transportation organization – identified 2.6 million unfilled truck driving jobs in 2021, based on data from the U.S., Mexico, Argentina, Europe, Eurasia, Turkey, Iran and China. The problem intensified in all regions outside Eurasia, but 18% of its driving jobs were still unfilled.

“It is a global issue,” said IRU business analyst Natalia Corchado, presenting the statistics during a June 27 webinar. The shortage is also expected to intensify in 2022.

2021 truck driver shortage map
(Illustration: IRU)

Fewer than 3% of the truck drivers are women. And even though rates are higher in China (5%) and the U.S. (8%), the demographic split is still a long way from representing a 50% gender balance, she said.

To compound matters, fewer than 7% of the world’s truck drivers are under 25, and they’re outnumbered by drivers over 55.

“The driver shortage is very real and only expected to get worse,” agreed Sutco Transportation president Doug Sutherland, chairman of the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s blue ribbon task force on the driver shortage.

Canada, which wasn’t captured in the IRU data, has more than 23,000 open truck driver jobs, Sutherland said. “We could be 55,000 drivers short by the end of 2024,” he added, citing Trucking HR Canada data.

Canada’s average truck driver is also 48 years old and climbing, which is 7.5 years older than the average worker, he said.

No single solution to shortage

Just don’t expect a quick fix.

“There’s no one reason for the shortage, so that means there’s no one solution for it,” said American Trucking Associations (ATA) senior economist Bob Costello, referring to underlying factors as diverse as demographics, long waiting times, limited parking, and lifestyle pressures.

One of the barriers to attracting younger drivers comes in the form of minimum licensing ages, which range from 21 to 26 in some regions, forcing younger workers to find jobs in other industries. The U.S., for its part, is running a pilot program that will allow 3,000 18-20-year-olds to work in interstate commerce when supported by additional training and more technology on the truck.

But truck driver wages are on the rise, Costello noted. Over the last few years, American longhaul drivers have seen average weekly earnings annually rise 8.5% per year – keeping pace with inflation, and outpacing average increases of 5.5% in other occupations.

Government solutions

Refugio Munoz, executive vice-president of Canacar, pointed at the U.S. as the source for some of Mexico’s shortage of 54,000 drivers.

“Now we see it cross-border, countries stealing drivers from other countries,” he said through a translator. It’s why his organization is pushing for a regional approach to finding solutions – and even government support.

“At the end of the day it also affects what the state or the government is responsible for, which is guaranteeing the supply of basic goods for the life of its citizens,” he said.

“We need a private-public policy and approach. We need to have joint policies that will help us.”

Mexico’s local, regional and federal governments, for example, have established 22 driver training schools.

But Sutherland actually sees a benefit that comes when truck drivers are hired by competing companies. In many ways, that drives the businesses to develop better cultures that make the industry more attractive, he said.

The Conference Board of Canada has referred to aging truck drivers as a demographic tsunami, Sutherland added.

“It’s not like we can’t see the storm that’s coming.”

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, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.


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  • A group from the U S is pushing for all truck drivers on U S to paid hourly overtime pay with safe parking during their protest. I gov person and others from from a non-profit in the U S were able to get a bill before the house
    In we should look at a plan for small trucking companies and farms to get affordable truck insurance and give more freedom with P C and we would have no shortage in ont

  • They really aren’t short there is a lack of stability in the trucking industry around the world to many hands in the pot so the drivers are working part time or owning their own business and authority so they get a better piece of the pie. Ignorance in the trucking world has gotten so far out of hand that little want to enter it. Big companies gaining major profits and works are getting basically a kick in the nuts.
    Maybe someone should look at the real problems not just what the supply management thinks they think they know all ,how come the product isn’t on the shelf not short truck short respect and money to the drivers. Government should stay out of the industry.

    • Mark, you hit the nail right on the head! Others keep talking about overtime pay – good luck with that. How about at least reasonable pay – enough to pay your fuel, insurance, repairs & maintenance and still have enough to live on and take a vacation once in awhile. Most of the public are so ignorant of what truckers have to go through to get “their” goods on the shelf. There is so little respect for truckers from the public and the companies they work for. I know many truckers and their stories are all the same. Ridiculous time-lines for truckers to deliver goods, causing truckers to speed & cause more accidents. There are very few places to park safely, lack of washroom facilities – especially in Canada!! Also ridiculous amounts of time away from home – with no pay for sitting! Sadly the answer is not putting hot-headed & inexperienced youngsters on the road without a lengthy amount of training to get through their non-matured brains.

  • Who wants to be away from home two weeks at a time but no overtime pay trucking industry wages are still crap they think $70,000 a year is a good wage for truckers when you’re working 13 hours a day we should be making $110,000 a year and all these trucking companies should start setting up switches you should not away from home more than six hours away from home and returned and go again take two days off and go again for three trips till that happens there always will be short of truckers thank you