The shortage of truckers in the US aggravates the inflationary crisis and forces to look for drivers abroad

truckers in the US aggravates the inflationary crisis and forces to look for drivers abroad

Truckers wanted in the U.S. Desperately. A rampant shortage in the transportation sector is behind some of the bottlenecks that are driving inflation, and threatens to damage the economy in the long run. And to solve it, companies in the sector are looking to attract drivers from abroad.

For the first time in her 10-year career in the trucking industry, Holly McCormick has been forced to negotiate with an agency in South Africa to find foreign drivers. McCormick, a recruiter for Groendyke Transport, has doubled her hiring budget since the pandemic began and is still having trouble finding candidates.

The US has been dealing with a chronic lack of drivers for years, but the shortage reached crisis levels when the COVID crisis broke out, which triggered online consumption – and the need for someone to bring those products to buyers’ homes – and caused an increase in early retirements. The consequences have been dire and far-reaching: service stations have had gasoline outages . Airports have run out of jet fuel. A stainless steel manufacturer declared a temporary closure for reasons of force majeure. And wood prices hit a record, and some suppliers partly blamed late deliveries. As McCormick put it: “If we can’t transport products, the economy will come to a standstill.”

Trucking has become one of the most acute bottlenecks in a supply chain that has nearly collapsed amid the pandemic, worsening supply shortages in all industries, further fueling inflation and threatening a broader economic recovery.

“We are going through the worst driver shortage we’ve seen in recent history, by far,” said José Gómez-Urquiza, CEO of Visa Solutions, an immigration agency with a focus on the transportation industry. As a result, demand for Visa Solutions services by the trucking industry has more than doubled since before the pandemic, and “this is 100% due to a driver shortage,” he said.

In bringing in more foreign workers, companies face a number of hurdles, such as visa caps that are issued after former President Donald Trump restricted immigration, adding to complex laws that have already been in place since decades ago. But the industry sees an opportunity now to overcome some of those hurdles, encouraged by the Joe Biden government’s decision to create a task force to address supply chain issues that impede economic recovery.

In July, Transportation Minister Pete Buttigieg, Labor Minister Marty Walsh, and Meera Joshi, Deputy Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, held a roundtable with the trucking industry to discuss how to improve retention. of conductors and reduce rotation. Among the measures the industry is seeking is lowering the minimum age from 21 to 18 for interstate drivers and adding trucking to the list of sectors that can circumvent some of the Department of Labor’s immigration certification processes.

Visas stuck

That would be a boon for Andre LeBlanc, vice president of operations for the Petroleum Marketing Group, which oversees the delivery of fuel to around 1,300 service stations, mostly in the northeast of the country. Some of those warehouses have been in short supply for up to 12 hours because “we just can’t restock them, because we don’t have enough qualified drivers,” he said, estimating that the group needs around 40 more to operate at full capacity. Meanwhile, of the 24 drivers LeBlanc has attempted to hire through a federal immigration program, only three have passed all the steps of the verification process.

“We have 21 drivers right now who are qualified, who can come to this country in the right way and are ready to come here and solve this problem,” he said. “But we can’t seem to get an answer on what we need to do to move forward.”

In addition to early retirements from the pandemic, last year’s sporadic and partial lockdowns have also made it difficult for new drivers to access commercial trucking schools to obtain a license. Businesses have offered higher salaries, signing bonuses, and higher social benefits. But so far their efforts have not done enough to lure the unemployed and domestic workers into an industry with grueling hours, a complex work-life balance and an entrenched boom-and-bust cycle.

In 2019, the US was already short of 60,000 drivers, according to the American Trucking Associations. That number is projected to rise to 100,000 by 2023, according to Bob Costello, the group’s chief economist. To get an indication of how severe the supply-demand mismatch is, just look at the Market Demand Index from Truckstop.com. Although the level of unanswered requests has cooled somewhat since reaching an all-time high in May, it has quadrupled from this date in 2019.

That underscores why companies are increasingly turning to drivers from South Africa and Canada, according to Craig Fuller, founder and CEO of data and information company Freightwaves. Workers in those countries can often speak English, making it easier to obtain the necessary license.

Still, Fuller points out that simply bringing in more foreign labor won’t solve all of the industry’s problems. There is also a shortage of capacity, meaning companies have an unusually small number of trucks on the road, while demand continues to increase, he said. “Even if there were drivers, there are a finite number of trucks, so we have two problems,” Fuller said.

Meanwhile, Andrew Owens, CEO of A&M Transport, seeks to address its driver shortage with immigrant labor from Mexico, Europe, South Africa and Canada. The courier company has hired 20 foreign workers in the last year, but ideally, Owens would hire at least a dozen more to meet the needs of the demand. He has been waiting for approvals since 2017 for a contract with 15 workers, only two of whom are now in the process that he was told would take between 13 and 18 months. “They all have a certified truck driving experience,” Owens said. “All we have to do is teach them to drive on the right side of the road and they will be ready.”