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.
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.
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.”
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