Are the driver shortage figures overestimated?

27 December 2021

We are told that soon there may be a shortage of professional drivers. Companies have been collecting statistics, carrying out studies and trying to find out how to reduce this growing gap. Consequences of the shortage resulting in a stalled supply chain could be catastrophic for the entire world.

The American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates that as of November this year, there is a shortage of 80,000 drivers in the US alone and this number will increase if no action is taken. This could be as high as 160,000 by 2030, according to ATA managing director Chris Spear, and up to one million people will need to be trained as professional drivers to meet this demand. 

The situation looks even more pessimistic in Europe, where, according to Transport Intelligence, we are already short of around 400 000 drivers.

Convoy economist believes driver shortage figures are overestimated

Forbes has recently published an article stating that, according to Aaron Terrazas, an economist at logistics company Convoy, the numbers reported by the ATA and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) are not accurate. Terrazas claims that these statistics do not include self-employed drivers, a group that has lately been growing rapidly. The BLS data also does not include information on trucking companies that temporarily closed their businesses during the pandemic and then reopened them.

Aaron Terrazas and Convoy decided to conduct their own research, which shows that the number of drivers and support staff in transport has increased since 2010. It is known that there are currently more loads than available drivers, but it is not a no-win situation.

In the interview with Forbes, the economist points out that even if driver shortages are visible, they can be balanced by increasing productivity and making better use of available resources.

One of the biggest pain points for drivers is waiting for loading and unloading, thus the “drop and hook” concept might solve this problem.

Drivers who are at the unloading place simply detach the trailer from the vehicle so as not to waste time waiting for unloading, and drive on without the semi-trailer. At the loading place, they attach a pre-loaded semi-trailer to the unit. Terrazas estimates that every 1% of volume nationwide that is moved to the drop and hook system is equivalent to adding 10,000 drivers.

On the web, on the other hand, we can read some sceptical opinions about this solution. According to them, the shortage of trailers makes it difficult to see an effective use of the drop and hook concept. Particularly if just 1% is to be the equivalent of 10,000 drivers. 

How to minimise driver shortages?

We thought that the world of transport and driver shortages could be saved by autonomous vehicles, but looking at the ongoing research, we know that it will not happen so soon. Greater use of air or rail transport could be a solution, but for this, in turn, extensive infrastructure is required.

What if we started looking at the problem from a different perspective and considered that the shortage of drivers is caused by the poor management of their time? In addition to the ‘drop and hook’ concept suggested by Terrazas, there are some other solutions that can be applied. However, the work of an individual is not enough here, but a change of the whole system and the approach of the industry.

Surveys conducted among shippers on LinkedIn and among drivers on Facebook led to a similar conclusion. Most time is wasted in warehouses. 15 minutes spent at the warehouse is extremely rare and the standard is several hours, even up to the several dozen ones.

The most frequently mentioned factor disintegrating the work is communication or even the lack of it. This is followed by the small number of staff responsible for charging. 

Better work organisation, tidier warehouses, proper securing of goods to make unloading of the vehicle easier are the things that will make drivers spend less time on loading and unloading.

In the case of large or complex loads, it can help to simply send the driver or storekeeper a loading project, e.g. the one prepared in Goodloading. This not only minimises errors, but also speeds up the whole process.

On the other hand, countries that are particularly affected by the shortage of drivers can co-finance courses so that any volunteer could overcome financial barriers and enter the market, thus reducing the shortage of professional drivers. Another issue is poor working conditions of professional drivers, especially those working at long distances. A difficult lifestyle and average wages do not encourage people to take up driving as a profession. It would be useful to consider how to improve working conditions for drivers to make the job attractive to newcomers.

Will better working conditions for drivers and increased productivity result in fewer problems in the supply chain? It could, although the industry is less optimistic. Let’s not forget the large shortages in truck availability and the increase in vehicle prices we have seen this year.

This post was prepared based on the article published in Forbes.