The USA has been struggling for a long time to meet demand for truck drivers who are so vital in distributing goods across the country. The shortage was compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic which has highlighted just how frail global supply chains are and how significant can be the impacts when they are disrupted.
This has led to warnings from the trucking industry of the potential for driver burnout as the labor shortage becomes a global issue, reported the Financial Times on August 29. The driver shortage has existed for years, and is being felt across the nation:
Enticing foreign truck drivers to the USA
In a bid to meet this demand for new drivers, leaders in the industry are now putting pressure on the Federal Government to allow truck drivers from overseas to be granted prized EB-3 permanent work visas, more quickly.
Government rules currently limit the annual supply of these visas to 40,000 per year. However, the time it takes to process them is preventing the recruitment of drivers as quickly or on the scale that is needed to fill the jobs.
Andrew Owens, president of the Oregon Trucking Association is one of many industry leaders who have called for the US Department of Transportation to provide assistance. They believe that the only way the driver shortage can be addressed is to reduce the time taken for such visas to be issued to foreign truck drivers from the 18-months typically taken at present.
One way of doing this would be to add truck drivers to the 'Schedule A' list of professions - those jobs facing an apparent shortage of qualified individuals within the USA. This would bring the application process down to around 6-months.
Increased salaries are not working
The labor shortage seems hard to comprehend given the number of people who have lost jobs as a result of the pandemic, and yet it highlights the specialist nature of the work.
Commenting on the shortage, CEO of haulage firm US Xpress Eric Fuller had this to say:
“The driver situation is about as bad as I’ve ever seen in my career,”
Fuller's firm has handed out pay increases amounting to 30-35% in the last 12-months but is still struggling to close the gap between demand and supply of drivers.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the truck transportation industry lost 6% of its labor force of 1.52 million workers. As of July 2021 the industry remained short of around 33,000 people compared to employment levels in February 2020.
It affects everyone
The bad news is that the inevitable increase in costs that are passed on to end consumers. While haulage firms increase salaries to entice drivers back to work, the extra costs will inevitably be passed on to Americans who buy the goods being distributed around the country.
The quicker the driver shortage is addressed, the better for all involved. If the problem cannot be resolved without granting visas to overseas drivers then that may be the only solution.
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