The U.S. has faced a chronic lack of truck drivers for some time now. The Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has also made matters worse by triggering early retirements and increased demand for shipped goods. Thus, shipping companies have looked to other countries to fill in much-needed vacancies for truck drivers.
According to an April 2021 press release by market intelligence company Beroe, the truck driver shortage in the U.S. is expected to become worse by 2026. The press release mentioned that about 63,000 truck-driving jobs in the bulk taker market are vacant as of writing. It added that by 2026, the global tanker truck market will need 174,000 new truck drivers.
This projection is aligned with statements by the American Trucking Associations (ATA). It said that in 2019, the U.S. already had a shortage of 60,000 truck drivers. ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello predicted that the shortage could climb up to 100,000 by 2023.
The lack of truck drivers to transport goods came with serious consequences. Gasoline stations and airports experienced shortages of much-needed fuel. A stainless steel manufacturer declared force majeure due to the lack of raw materials. Lumber prices also went up as some suppliers pointed to delivery delays.
A number of companies shared their experiences of recruiting foreign truck drivers to address this shortage. Recruiter Holly McCormick said she has had to coordinate with an agency in South Africa to source foreign drivers for the first time in her decade-long trucking career. Despite her company Groendyke Transport doubling her budget since the pandemic, she still faced difficulty finding suitable candidates. “If we’re not able to haul these goods, our economy virtually shuts down.”
Visa Solutions CEO Jose Gomez-Urquiza meanwhile said: “We’re living through the worst driver shortage that we’ve seen in recent history, by far.” Gomez-Urquiza’s company handled immigration concerns for clients in the transportation industry. Because of this, demand for his company’s services from the trucking industry had more than doubled since before the pandemic. “This is 100 percent because of the driver shortage,” Gomez-Urquiza remarked.
Recruiting drivers from other countries has its own share of challenges
Bringing in foreign truck drivers has its own set of challenges such as visa limits and complicated immigration rules. However, the Biden administration has moved to address these supply chain challenges and aid the trucking industry.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Acting and Deputy Administrator Meera Joshi met with trucking industry representatives back in July 2021. Efforts to improve driver retention and reduce turnover were among the topics tackled in the meeting.
A July 8 statement by the Department of Transportation acknowledged the effect of driver turnovers on the trucking industry. It said: “Turnover rates are over 90 percent for large long-haul carriers and over 72 percent for small carriers – meaning that drivers are regularly leaving companies or leaving the industry altogether. The lag time that results in training and onboarding new drivers can result in driver shortages.”
The trucking industry sought a number of measures during the July 2021 meeting with government officials. These included lowering the minimum age from 21 to 18 for interstate drivers. The industry also sought to add trucking to the list of industries that can bypass the Department of Labor‘s immigration certification process.
While those plans are still under consideration, two trucking companies looked to other countries for their staffing needs. Petroleum Marketing Group Vice President of Operations Andre LeBlanc said gas stations the company served had seen shortages for as long as 12 hours. “We simply can’t re-supply them because we don’t have the qualified drivers,” he said, estimating that the company needed about 40 more to operate at full capacity.
To solve the understaffing problem, LeBlanc tried to hire 24 drivers through a federal immigration program. But only three have gotten through all steps of the verification process. “We’ve got 21 drivers right now who are qualified, who can come to this country the right way and are ready to come here and solve this problem. We can’t seem to get an answer on what we need to do to move that forward,” LeBlanc said.
Meanwhile, A&M Transport CEO Andrew Owens looked to other countries to address his company’s driver shortage. The company has brought in 20 foreign workers in the last year, but Owens remarked that a dozen more workers could address demand. “They all have verifiable truck driving experience. The only thing we need to do is teach them to drive on the right side of the road,” Owens said. Of the 15 workers his 2017 job contract required, only two workers managed to undergo the vetting process.
OpenBorders.news has more articles about foreign workers being used to fill in labor shortages in the trucking industry.