By Steve Binkley
InfoStream Safety Consultant
“The trucking industry is short 80,000 drivers,” said Chris Spear, president, and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, during a CNN interview in October. This shortage is an increase of 19,000 truck drivers from three years ago, and it’s likely to get worse.
According to a motor carrier survey conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute, the driver shortage ranks at the top of significant concern for the fifth year in a row. The current driver shortage also impacts retailers as in many parts of the country shelves are sometimes empty, and favorite items are unavailable due to supply chain problems.
What is causing this? How did we get to this point? Can the driver shortage be fixed? If so, when? Following are my thoughts on the causes of the shortage and possible solutions.
Many of today’s drivers have been in the industry for 30+ years, and this aging workforce is heading into retirement. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average age of truck drivers is 55 years old. This demographic will greatly affect the trucking industry as 25% of the driver workforce will reach retirement within the next 10 years.
These are the same drivers, we the North American public, have depended on for years to deliver goods and meet our supply needs.
The Covid pandemic has played a significant role in drivers leaving the industry as some drivers refuse to be vaccinated and others choose to stay home and not risk exposure. In a CDL LIFE opinion survey, 26% of the truck drivers who responded said that they’d rather get fired from their job than get a vaccine.
Low driver pay doesn’t make a driving career attractive. The latest U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics showed the median annual wage for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was $47,130 in May 2020.
Demographic shifts have also contributed to the shortage, as the millennial population (ages
18 – 34) are moving out of the big cities, moving west and south, and into low tax states
such as Texas and Florida. This shows there aren’t enough ‘potential’ drivers in certain parts of
the country where the region has thriving freight lanes as listed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Time away from home often deters potential drivers as they enter the workforce and begin searching for jobs. Other factors are a decaying infrastructure, strict government regulations, and a customer base that sometimes can seem less than friendly and not cooperative with drivers and acknowledging their time restraints with deliveries.
Here are three ideas I have to fill these open positions and make a driving career more desirable.
- Increasing driver pay, building loyalty through trust and respect, and relationship building with the motor carrier’s management is a good start. I’d like to see a movement where the industry lobbies for fewer regulations, such as allowing more flexibility with drivers’ service hours. Additionally, shippers being more accommodating with drivers and their tight schedules would greatly help the industry.
- There are opportunities to expand the potential driver base by recruiting female drivers and marketing the trucking careers to drivers from other countries. Considering legislation to make it legal for 18 year olds to drive on interstate roadways must be regarded as a feasible option for carriers.
- Motor carriers are exploring if it’s practical to focus on becoming more regionalized versus a long-haul operation. Doing so results in more drivers having more time at home. I think it’s vital to conduct in-depth talks with our present drivers and get their thoughts and ideas on what the industry can do to make the job more attractive to new drivers.
The driver shortage is a genuine emergency causing legitimate concerns in North America. It also causes us to ask what lies ahead and how severe can this get. Will the store shelves be stocked with needed supplies?
There is no magic wand that will fix the problem. However, the trucking industry realizes this crisis is critical, and hopefully, carriers will use every strategy that helps provide some relief to resolve this issue.