The pandemic disrupted most Supply Chains (SCs), worsening prolonged trucker shortages. Surveys revealed that despite the current reduction in COVID-19 cases, there is still an alarming deficiency of drivers in all regions. The American Trucking Association estimates a deficit of more than 80,000 truck drivers, and it will rocket into the second semester of 2022.
When governments shut down everything
These are times of harsh working conditions, making it worse not only by the pandemic but the geopolitical crisis; the reason why attracting women and young people to these positions is somewhat tricky.
At the beginning of Corvid, truck drivers could not have a place to rest, have a bath, eat a meal, or more due to lockdowns, the closure of borders, and if they were about to retire, what could they do, or how could they find another job?
Many truck recruiters offered new positions to drivers before the pandemic when hiring started slowing down; now, the fact is that they had more jobs to offer than enthusiastic drivers to take them. Working and hiring changed forever. Prospective truck drivers prefer sacrificing the money to be at home every night. Students are offered this position and are now driving semi-trucks, practising for their commercial driving licence test.
Around the world, the trucking workforce is ageing. The typical age of heavy-goods vehicle drivers in the UK is 53; getting sick at this age is commonplace; the uncertainty and early slowdowns of the pandemic accelerated truck drivers' departure from the industry.
As economies started recovering and the demand for transport services spread, the crisis in East Europe made things complicated. Experts say that more than 20 countries and multiple regions worldwide are experiencing driver shortages. In places such as China, Eurasian, the European Union, and some American countries did not fulfil a significant percentage of positions offered.
In Europe, unfiled driver’s positions fell by around three quarters; driver shortage endangers the citizens’ welfare, the road transport performance, SC, trade, and the economy; a lack of trained drivers is the leading cause in all regions. The industry and authorities must take action now!
Women and youth - a potential workforce
Women are an option to fulfil the drivers’ gap; they represented Europe16% of the total workforce in 2020. They need more investment in security and safe parking areas to attract them.
Relating young truck drivers under 25 fell nearly everywhere in 2020, resulting in a current truck driver’s professional average age close to 50 globally. The minimum age for professional drivers is 21 or higher in many places; leaders predict this demographic gap will only worsen if governments do not act to downgrade the minimum driver age, as youth unemployment is well over 30% in some countries. It could be set in 18, with training starting from 17 to give a push to release all the potential this profession demands to become a job changing factor.
COVID-19 restrictions affected professional drivers, emphasising their poor treatment at distribution sites and temporary border regulations, impacting the attraction for the profession. Working conditions must improve to treat workers more respectfully. The International Road Transport Union (IRU) helps transport companies, drivers, and transport worldwide to improve working conditions.
Training and certification are crucial to attract, develop and retain skilled drivers, especially with new technology, safety expectations and compliance standards. Students were offered this position and are now driving semi-trucks, practising for their commercial driving licence test. It will significantly close the gap between leaving school and getting a driver's job.
What is going on?
The unions' decline caused trucker wages to shrink for years. The long distance they need to cover is another factor in this crisis. Working long hours is not adequately compensated. For instance, truckers could spend all day or a day and nights waiting around to get a load at a port site, loading up and offloading goods without getting extra payment: closures during Covid-19 and SC bottlenecks have made that even more irregular.
The long journey hours, the delay at ports or warehouses to get the goods, and any incident on the road, such as a traffic jam, a flat tire, or an accident, could disrupt the logistics process, and it is up to the truck driver to figure it out. Interruptions could constrain the number of trips drivers must make, reducing their living wages.
There have been multiple truck-drivers protests in several countries. For instance, Canada's 'Freedom Convoy' has shut down Ottawa, blocking $500 million in daily cross-border trade. The march began in opposition to the government that introduced a mandatory policy demanding that all cross-border truck drivers wear a mask, COVID vaccine check-ins, and be fully vaccinated or undergo testing and quarantine requirements.
In the US and Europe, employers count on immigrant labour, but it is again a procedure sending them to the bottom of the workforce. Western Europe often relied on work from poorer European countries to fill truck driving positions. Still, as soon as those economies developed, those labour sources became limited; besides, immigration rules changed because of Brexit.
Others face different challenges; in Malaysia, truckers make about $800 to $900 a month for long-distance runs in the commercial trucking industry, a salary quite good for them. But, again, at what cost? Sometimes, poor infrastructure and roadways represent other obstacles.
Experts said that truckers' wages have declined, but shipping and logistics companies are increasing rates; drivers' salaries are at the bottom of companies’ remunerations, even though they are vital to power the Transport Industry. Salaries and bonuses for truckers must go up to cope with the labour demand at this stage. There should be good signing bonuses, too, considering they do not have a say in the routes, cargo, and time to upload or unload goods. Things have to change to benefit them.
The USA government announced a trucker retention plan to recruit more veterans and improve working conditions to enhance the industry: “Pay them more, treat them better, they’ll stick around,” a CEO stated.
Summing up: we rely significantly on truckers to distribute the surgical masks, deodorisers and our food to cook when in quarantine and still supply supermarkets. The vital role truckers play in the economy of any country is now seen clearly. Governments and the Transportation Industry must act in consequence to improve working conditions, train employees, authorise lower driver age, and guide women and unemployed youth into the profession.
Are truck drivers being treated well and supported in their fight for better jobs?
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