In October of 2015, a landmark report entitled “Truck Driver Analysis 2015” written by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) highlighted the critical problem of driver shortages throughout the United States. According to the ATA’s report, there was a shortage of 48,000 truck drivers in 2015 that could grow to 175,000 by 2024.
The reasons for the driver shortage are many. A strong economy creating increased demand for transportation of goods and services has exacerbated the problem, but other reasons include too much time away from home, low pay, retiring drivers, stringent regulations and competition from various technology sectors for the highly valued millennial labor force.
It is important to recognize that there are a number of different types of commercial truck drivers. Local drivers are the easiest to recruit because they are home every night. Regional drivers are only away from their families one night and are the next easiest group to recruit. Long-haul drop and hook solo drivers are little more difficult to find, but still relatively available due to the lower level of manual labor involved.
Then we move on to more challenging types of drivers to hire. Long-haul truckload team drivers are difficult to hire because they have to get along with each other for days on end in a confined space. Long-haul less-than-truckload (LTL) solo drivers are faced with physically demanding work in addition to being away from home for long stretches. The most difficult drivers to recruit and hire are the long-haul LTL team drivers. This job combines some of the more challenging parts of driving including team driving, time away from family, and physically demanding work. Of course the more difficult driving jobs typically come with higher pay, which can make these jobs great opportunities for the right individuals.
Across the trucking industry, executives are struggling to develop innovative and enticing programs to attract a new generation of commercial truck drivers. Signing bonuses, higher wages, technological advances, newer more luxurious fleets, and adjusted schedules are just a few of the strategies being employed.
The government is concerned as well. Introduced into the House by Rep. Duncan Hunter in March 2018 (H.R. 5358) and the Senate by Senator Todd Young in August 2018 (S.3352), the DRIVE-Safe Act proposes dropping the age requirement for interstate driving from 21 to 18. Lowering the age requirement for commercial driving could make a positive impact on the situation. The idea is that by the time young adults turn 21 they have already decided upon a career path and have invested their time and resources into college, trade schools or other careers. Lowering the commercial driving age would allow young adults right out of high school to explore driving as a career option.
The United States driver shortage is a complex problem that will have compounding consequences in the years ahead. Advances in technology like automatic transmissions and adaptive cruise control will help in the short-term to get new recruits in the seats faster, but options like driverless road-trains are still years away. Unless we address issues like wages, regulations, schedules and work-load, the workforce will seek easier and better paying jobs. Meanwhile, empty store shelves and economic disruption could be the new reality.
-Provided by: Jake Maenpa, Vice President – Sales, Lynden Freight & Shipping Logistics