The shortage of truck drivers, a global problem

There is a shortage of truck drivers. Specifically, 2.6 million jobs were not filled worldwide in 2021. There are several causes and possible solutions, too. Josep Maria Fortuny, Deputy General Director for Transport Organisation and Sector Development of the Directorate General for Transport and Mobility of the Generalitat de Catalunya, analyses a complex panorama in which there is no place for shortcuts.

Posted on 08.25.2022
By 2022, the global truck driver shortage will increase by 40% (GettyImages)

Although this situation is not new and has been going on for several years, a survey conducted by the International Road Transport Union (IRU) to 1,524 freight and passenger transport companies from 25 countries is not optimistic. On the contrary. The main conclusion is that by 2022 the shortage of truck drivers will increase globally by 40%.

"For a number of years, the lack of local drivers has been neutralised by hiring foreign professionals, mainly from Eastern European countries and Latin America," explains Josep Maria Fortuny, Deputy General Director for Transport Organisation and Sector Development of the Directorate General for Transport and Mobility of the Generalitat de Catalunya. However, since the need to emigrate has decreased, so has the number of foreign truck drivers.

The consequences of the freight truck driver shortage 

Fortuny explains that the continuing lack of truck drivers has an impact on the production capacity of companies, which have to adjust downwards. "The lack of services on offer means that the haulier's client sees that the possibility of transporting products in a shorter time is reduced. This also affects the end consumer, as delivery times for certain products are lengthened due to the difficulty of moving them from one place to another," he analyses.

This situation provokes an increase in prices, has repercussions on the final price and can chronify the upward trend in the consumer price index (CPI), which in July stood at 10.8% year-on-year, the highest in Spain since 1984.

In 2021, 2.6 million truck driver jobs went unfilled worldwide. (GettyImages)


The lack of training, the absence of women and the imbalance between work and family life are the main reasons for the shortage of truck drivers

Why is there a lack of professional drivers?

As the IRU's 'Driver Shortage Global Report 2022', based on data obtained from the survey, points out, there is a paradoxical situation. Despite the fact that there are more than 50 million unemployed people in the regions analysed who would cover the demand for truck drivers, the profession is not sufficiently attractive for people seeking employment.

These are the reasons:

  • The average age of drivers

In most regions, the majority of drivers are aged 55 or older. Only Mexico and China break this trend, with 19% and 17% of drivers under the age of 25 respectively. This situation is particularly acute in Europe, where the average age stands at 47 years.

According to the IRU report, the main reason for this is that the legal age to become a lorry driver is 21, and even 26 in some countries. This causes potential young candidates to seek employment in other fields, as at 18 years of age makes it impossible for them to enter this profession and, once placed in other sectors, it is difficult to rethink a future in truck driving. 

"Structurally, many people have a type C driving licence to drive lorries, but many of them are involved in other activities," explains Fortuny. 

  • Remuneration and work-life balance

"The profession of lorry driver requires long periods away from home, especially long-distance or international transport. For the younger generation, who are more sensitive to work-life balance, this is a disincentive," he says.

Freight transport also involves a higher risk than more physically static jobs, another factor considered a deterrent by the report and by Fortuny.

The IRU survey results indicate that in order to mitigate both of these factors, increase the interest in the profession and keep trucks moving, companies have increased wages. According to the American Trucking Association, the industry is rising wages by up to five times the historical average. In the UK, drivers' gross wages increased by 18% in the first nine months of 2021.

  • The lack of women drivers

The figures are not misleading. The average number of women truck drivers in the regions surveyed is less than 3%. The exceptions are China with 5% and the United States with 8%.

"This is much lower than in other sectors of activity. Historically, road transport and driving these vehicles may have required physical conditions that are no longer the case. One of the lines of work is to incorporate more women drivers, as has happened in other segments," says Fortuny.

  • More training

Passenger and freight operators in most regions see the lack of qualified drivers as the main cause of the driver shortage.

To become a truck driver, in addition to a C driving licence, a Certificate of Professional Competence (CAP) is needed, which requires a series of tests, the knowledge of which must be validated from time to time. "Especially the skills that a professional driver must maintain throughout his working life," says Fortuny.

According to the IRU, the average number of female truck drivers in the regions surveyed is less than 3%. (GettyImages)

Solutions to alleviate the lack of drivers

The Deputy General Director for Transport Organisation and Sectoral Development of the Directorate General for Transport and Mobility of the Generalitat de Catalunya explains the proposals to encourage more professionals to become lorry drivers. These are in line with those put forward by the IRU.

  • Lowering the age for type C licences

In November 2020, the General Driver Regulations were amended, imposed by the European Directive, to reduce the minimum age for driving lorries with a gross vehicle weight over 7,500 kg to 18 years, subject to the prerequisite of having obtained the CAP.

  • More training

There are currently five secondary schools in Catalonia that offer the intermediate level training cycle of Technician in Driving of Road Transport Vehicles. Given that training can start at the age of 16, students who complete the 2,000 hours would have sufficient knowledge at the age of 18 to be able to drive a vehicle of this type, although with some limitations.

"This is a long-term solution. Other measures on the table include increasing the facilities for hiring foreign drivers, improving salary conditions and reconciling family life," says Fortuny.

  • Scholarships and grants for training

Another plan is to provide a series of total or partial scholarships so that older people who want to obtain the CAP and the type C driving licence without studying for an intermediate degree can do so.

When will the driver shortage end?

Fortuny confirms what the IRU anticipates: the lack of drivers is likely to last for some time. "It is a recurring issue that we deal with in the meetings between general directors that are held periodically between the state and the autonomous communities. However, there is no specific policy or fully coordinated actions, these meetings are for information purposes," he shares.

"At an international level, we participate in the International Union of Public Transport but the focus is on passenger transport. For goods, these issues are dealt with through the Spanish ministry or ministerial meetings in Brussels," he explains.

Regarding the relationship with transport companies, Fortuny says that they have a permanent space in the form of regular meetings with the sector's representative associations. The result of this, he says, is the recent agreement between his department, the department of education, labour, the employment service and the professional associations of passenger and freight transport with the aim of promoting the medium-level training cycle.

"By promoting we mean that the administrations provide the necessary tools for this new cycle to move forward effectively. The companies, on their side, are committed to participating actively both in the training side, given their knowledge of the sector, and in the recruitment process once these people gradually obtain this qualification," he shares.

For the expert, drivers are an "essential" figure. He does not see autonomous lorry driving as a short-term solution, as there are still "many years and many steps" to overcome before it becomes the future of driving. Particularly in the transport of goods.