It’s no secret that the trucking industry is facing a driver shortage. Business website TheStreet estimates that at least 60,000 drivers are needed to meet current hauling demand, but reported that Seaport Global Securities analyst Kevin Sterling said that number could be 100,000 or more.
And it could get worse. The same article quoted Sky Harbor director of research Michael Salice as writing that “industry experts fear the current shortage may nearly triple by the year 2026, absent any meaningful changes.”
The reasons for the shortage are plentiful. A Forbes web article quoted Land O’Lakes supply chain officer Yone Dewberry as telling a conference that shippers themselves are responsible. “We’ve created it,” he said. “As an industry, we’ve done this to ourselves.”
It’s more than just that, however. It’s the makeup of the trucking industry itself and the typical driver. Here are some examples:
- Demographics: The average age of a truck driver is 55 years old, according to an LTX Solutions blog post. That means much of this workforce will retire within the next decade or two, requiring the hiring of younger drivers. Of course, since federal law sets the minimum age for truck drivers at 21, that eliminates opportunities for non-college-bound high school graduates who could fill the void.
- Lifestyle: Face it, the life of many truck drivers isn’t idyllic. They’re on the road for days at a time and see their families only a few times each month. They sleep in their trucks, shower at truck stops and subsist on fast food and convenience store sandwiches. Most people don’t want to sign up for that kind of life. And the pay: An average of $42,480 per year in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, below the national median salary of $46,124.
- Turnover: TheStreet article stated that industry turnover rates are more than 90%.
- Increased demand: The U.S. economy is humming along, closing in on 10 straight years of growth, as measured by Gross Domestic Product. Manufacturing has increased, which means more goods have to be shipped. This is the shipper responsibility that Land O’ Lakes’ Dewberry spoke about. But the truck driver shortage has forced some carriers to refuse business and some businesses to ship their goods by rail.
Solving the shortage – and preventing the potential tripling of it that Sky Harbor’s Salice predicted – will take several initiatives, both from the industry side and the shipper’s side, though the latter could come with higher costs that could increase prices down to the consumer level.
Obviously, increasing trucker pay and benefits would be a big help. The LTX article reported that many carriers are not only raising salaries, but also improving benefits packages, including 401(k) and tuition reimbursement programs.
Carriers are also addressing lifestyle issues in their recruitment efforts. Several companies, in radio and newspaper ads, promise no more than three straight days away from home, or at least two straight days at home each week. That avoids spending weeks at a time sleeping in the truck and allows the trucker to see at least some of their kids’ ballgames and dance recitals.
The minimum age limit of 21 is being addressed in Congress, where U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., introduced legislation that would establish an apprenticeship program for those ages 18-21 who would like to learn how to drive the big rigs. The bill never got out of subcommittee this year.
Another way to help alleviate the shortage is to recruit women. Females comprise only 6% of the trucking workforce, the LTX article stated, as opposed to 47% of the national workforce. Just increasing that to 10% would add more than 40,000 new drivers to the fold.
Finally, many carriers are looking intently into the testing of automated vehicles. Experts agree that they are a long way away from being placed on the road, especially since cars haven’t yet been approved for use beyond testing. And many safety and business concerns are already being expressed about the possibility.
The truck driver shortage will continue to play a large part in the industry as it hauls an increasing amount of goods. But carriers will continue to recruit and find ways to get the product to the customer.
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