Are we Still Facing a Driver Shortage?

truck driving shortage

The commercial truck driver shortage has and still does pose a real threat to the logistics industry. Furthermore, based on recent information flowing in from the US Department of Labor and the American Trucking Association, the shortage of qualified CDL drivers isn't just not slowing down... it is actually increasing rather progressively. 

A report was published during summer 2019 by the American Trucking Association that indicated a current discrepancy of nearly 61,000 open jobs. The demand for LTL and FTL truck movements is increasing, especially as retailers, wholesalers, and distributors ramp up their importing of goods due to pending tariff hikes and holiday shopping volume

Essentially, while demand for carriers is increasing, the number of drivers available is consistently decreasing.

So what is happening here? What is the root issue? More importantly, is there a solution to this problem?

These are a few of the questions we’ll explore in this blog post.


Yes, the Truck Driver Shortage is Still an Issue

The truck driving shortage is real.

In fact, the statistics outlined by the ATA in their 2019 report indicates that the gap between current CDL truck drivers leaving positions vs. the number of candidates willing to fill those positions is expanding. 

In a press release published by the ATA in 2018 addressing the commercial truck driver shortage, Bob Costello, the Chief Economist representing the ATA stated, “Over the past 15 years, we’ve watched the shortage rise and fall with economic trends, but it ballooned last year to the highest level we’ve seen to date. The 2018 shortage was an increase of nearly 20 percent over 2017 numbers of 50,700 drivers.”

A major contributing factor to this alarming reality is an aging demographic of current CDL truck drivers that navigate LTL and FTL routes for commercial carriers. In order to meet the supply and demand, the industry needs to retain and train more than 1 million drivers in the next decade. Basically, this means that the transportation industry as a whole must find creative ways of attracting more than 100,000 potential candidates per year – just to keep up with those leaving the industry. 

In order to solve the truck driving shortage, it’s estimated that 150,000 new candidates must be successfully trained. And since the driver shortage has slowly been in decline since 2000, indicators that achieving these numbers is less likely to happen. 

“That’s where the vast majority of this shortage lies,” Costello stated in the release. “The U.S. Department of Labor says that there are about 3.5 million total truck drivers, but that’s including all types of truck equipment. There are 1.8 million heavy and tractor-trailer drivers, but we’re even talking about a smaller subset of truck drivers than that.”

Statistics provided by the ATA indicate that in 2018, there were 550,000 for-hire truck drivers actively working in the United States. As stated above, based on the increased need for LTL can FTL carriers, due to rising tariffs, peak shopping seasons, and other economic indicators, the supply is simply not able to keep up with the demand. This leads to higher shipping rates, as the carriers can set their own pricing. 


How Can the Industry Attract More Drivers?

Target marketing is quite effective in filling niche-specific industries and careers. To be honest, the truck driving industry is one that attracts a specific type of individual. Typically, those who opt for this career are automotive enthusiasts, those who enjoy working alone, and not married. The ATA has spent a lot of time working with commercial carriers trying to reach and target these individuals. 

However, making things more difficult is a drastic change in culture. This is an industry in which fewer young people are interested in spending days away from home, or simply consider truck driving as carrying a negative stereotype. 

There are a few ideas that the ATA has recommended for finding new candidates including, exploring new marketing techniques to target younger candidates. Actively reaching out to retired military veterans, increasing average salary and pay, along with addressing the lifestyle factors mentioned above are some of the most actionable.

It’s also interesting to note that another shift in marketing is the intent on reaching female drivers. As of 2018, less than seven percent of truck drivers in the US were women. 

Regardless of the hurdles, objectives, and strategies, the reality is that the truck driving shortage is a real problem facing carriers. This is impacting shippers with higher rates simply due to supply and demand economics. This introduces an interesting challenge, where shippers need to explore every opportunity to increase relationships with carriers, negotiate lower shipping rates, or save more money on their transportation costs.