In its 2022 report on the shortage of truck drivers, the IRU notes that the situation is getting worse. Salary increases have not been enough to bring the numbers needed into the profession.
The road haulage industry needs from now on to acknowledge that the shortage of drivers is a structural phenomenon. It is true that the fall in demand for goods in 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic eased the recruitment crisis but the shortage became more acute again in 2021 as the strong post-pandemic economic recovery made its effect felt. According to the IRU's latest annual report on the problem, which covered 1,500 companies in 25 countries, some 2.6 million posts for drivers were left unfilled last year and the situation is expected to get worse in 2022.
2,6 millions posts unfilled
In 2021, all areas except Eurasia were affected by the growing shortage, even if it was less acute than it was before the pandemic. In Europe, the number of unfilled posts rose from 7% to 10%. The situation is particularly critical in the United Kingdom, where 100,000 posts have been left unfilled but 80,000 posts were also unfilled in both Germany and Poland, while, in Romania, the number of unfilled posts was 71,000. France, Spain and Italy are in a less critical situation, as is indicated by the last European Road Freight Rate Benchmark.
We can see, too, a clear increase in the number of unfilled posts in Turkey and China. As for Eurasia, there was no increase in the shortfall but it is nevertheless an area where the problem is particularly marked with an average of 18% of post unfilled.
With regard to 2022, the IRU study indicates that there has been a slight improvement in the situation in Argentina and China but the general trend shows a worsening situation. The number of unfilled drivers' posts is expected to increase by 15% in Turkey and by 40% in Eurasia and Europe.
2022 : estimate ; UR = unemployment rate. Source : IRU Global Shortage Report 2022
Finally, in the United States, the shortage concerns 80,000 posts, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA). The method used to calculate the figure is a little different, however, since it is not an estimation of the number of posts unfilled but of the ratio between the number of drivers in activity on the market and the number which would be required to fully meet demand. The ATA expected the shortfall to concern 84,000 drivers in 2022 and 160,000 in 2030.
The IRU report shows that the driver shortage is being felt everywhere, even in areas where there is a high unemployment rate. This clearly raises questions about the attractiveness of the profession.
Pay has often been blamed for the industry's recruitment difficulties. In 2021, however, given the great imbalance between demand and available resources, significant salary increases were paid, particularly in Europe and the United States, and this trend can be expected to continue in 2022. But, according to the IRU, this has not brought a diminution in the driver shortfall. In some cases, it even looks as if the increases made the shortfall worse by encouraging some drivers to reduce their working hours.
These indications suggest that the sector also needs to work on improving working conditions to make itself more attractive.
For the time being, campaigns to attract newcomers to truck driving, particularly young people and women, have not met with much success.
- Low representation of women
Overall, in the areas covered by the IRU study, less than 3% of drivers are women, except in China, where the level is 4.9% and the United States, where it is 7.8%. "The lack of secure infrastructure, the treatment of drivers at delivery site, long periods away from home and the poor image of the profession are some of the reasons explaining the low representation of women," the IRU said.
- Age pyramid concerns
Similarly, the profession is having difficulty attracting young people. The proportion of drivers under the age of 25 is less than 7% overall, with Mexico and China notable exceptions at 19 and 17% respectively. In the first place, this low proportion reflects the ageing population. In all the regions covered by the study, less than 13% of the workforce was under 25. "Nonetheless, the share of young truck drivers is behind the active population benchmark in all regions except Mexico and China," the IRU said. Another factor here is the minimum age limit for entry into the profession, which can be set at 21 or even 24.
As a result of this low driver population renewal rate, the number of drivers aged 55 or more has increased strongly. The situation is particularly critical in Europe and the United States, where the proportion of drivers aged over 55 stands at 34% and 31% respectively.
A serious threat to supply chains
The driver shortage has now reached record levels and these are a clear threat to the fluidity of supply chains. "Chronic commercial driver shortages are getting worse, with millions of positions remaining unfilled," said IRU secretary general Umberto de Pretto. "This is putting already stressed economies and communities at higher risk of inflation, social mobility issues and supply chain meltdown.”
The measures required to remedy the situation are numerous and involve all parties involved in the supply chain. “The solution to the driver shortage will most certainly require increased pay, regulatory changes and modifications to shipper, receiver and carrier business practices to improve conditions for drivers,” the ATA said.
Although the salary questions depends mainly on the salary policy of each company and the balance between supply and demand, the authorities are starting to work with the profession on improvements to working conditions. There have been a number of initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic on secure parking areas.
In September 2021, the European Commission called for proposals to improve the safe and sure truck parking network in the European Union and offered funds totalling €100m for the purpose. The investment will go first to the development of new rest areas every 100 km or so along the main road routes in the Trans-European Transport Networks, as well as to improvements in security and services at existing rest areas. With 300,000 places currently available, Europe has a shortage of 100,000 secure parking places to cover its needs, according to a European Commission estimate in a report published in 2019.
More recently, the commission published new norms intended to give drivers access to all the facilities they require and enable transport operators to choose the level of security they need for their goods. A delegated regulation published on 7 April 2022 sets out minimum service levels and establishes four levels of security - bronze, silver, gold and platinum.
In the United States, too, a law aimed at improving parking security for heavy goods vehicles was put forward in March 2021. It should enable projects worth up to $755m to be financed, although the legislative process has not yet been completed.
Another key factor in efforts to improve working conditions is reception conditions at dispatch and destination points. This takes in access to hygiene installations and the kind of tasks drivers are required to carry out - the loading and unloading of good, for example. Some countries have begun passing legislation in this area. Spain passed a royal decree on 1 March 2022, which was published in the official journal on 2 March. It bans the involvement of drivers in the loading and unloading of goods and packaging (palettes and crates and the like). Portugal passed similar legislation in September 2021. The Spanish law applies to all vehicles of more than 7.5 tonnes operating in Spain except in certain defined sectors. Failure to respect the ban is now considered to be an offence punishable by a fine of up to €6,000. Waiting times of more than one hour, moreover, can result in transport companies having to pay compensation.
The driver shortage does not only concern transport companies and the authorities. The entire supply chain needs to be mobilised, including shippers, who will need to make a much greater effort to protect their relationship with these essential service providers.