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Throughout the past decade, the trucking industry has struggled with a shortage of truck drivers. The driver shortage affects the entire economy, as over 68% of all freight is moved on U.S. highways. And with the shortage increasing driver pay, it can have a significant impact on supplier costs and therefore consumer pricing. It can also increase shipping delays and shortages at stores.
In this article, we will discuss the largest factors affecting the shortage and what the industry is doing to fix the problem.
One of the largest issues influencing the driver shortage is the demographic of the current workforce, primarily age, and gender. The trucking industry relies heavily on male employees, 45 years of age or older.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of a commercial truck driver in the U.S. is 55 years old. With an alarming amount of these drivers retiring within the next 10-20 years, we are quickly approaching a dangerous cliff. A cliff that, if fallen off of, will hit the industry hard if new, younger workers aren’t hired into the industry. This has proved to be difficult, though, as the Federal requirement states you must be 21 years old to hold an Interstate Commercial Divers License. This leaves a 3-year post-high school gap, where possible employees become distracted by new employment opportunities.
Another major demographic issue is that the industry is really only tapping into a little over half of the workforce population. Women makeup 47% of the nation’s workforce but only account for 6% of commercial truck drivers. The problem here is changing the stereotype that the trucking industry is a macho job, for macho men. To better convince women that they are welcome, carriers need to make it clear that women are not only wanted but needed in the truck driver career pool.
The next topic that’s important to address is the lifestyle of a truck driver. For many, this lifestyle isn’t ideal and steers people away from even considering a career as a truck driver. Most drivers, when new to the industry, are assigned to routes that keep them on the road for extended periods of time, returning home only a few times a month. Adapting to living in a truck, and showering at rest areas can be difficult.
Being on the road non-stop also limits the driver’s options when it comes to nutrition. No one can binge on fast food and gas station snacks without some health consequences. Not to mention, combine that kind of eating with the sedentary lifestyle of a truck driver and the pounds will keep packing on. This high-calorie, high sugar diet can lead to major health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and digestive issues.
Sleep deprivation is another chronic problem truck drivers face. With the pressure to get their freight to its destination as quickly as possible, drivers often skip sleep breaks. This not only affects the driver physically but mentally as well. Mental fogginess, poor judgment, and forgetfulness are all side effects that can make drivers more prone to accidents.
Due to the complexity of the driver shortage, there is no one solution. Below are a few marketplace responses and potential policy solutions that could reduce the driver shortage:
• Increase Driver Pay – Just as we are experiencing now with gas prices, the natural market reaction when there is a shortage of a good or service is to increase the price. In this scenario, that price would be truck driver wages. Most carriers have been offering pay increases, coupled with a comprehensive benefits package and 401(k)/tuition reimbursement options.
• Decrease Time on the Road – Increasing time at home and decreasing time on the road, can take so many of those “lifestyle” issues out of the equation. With the LTL hub & spoke system and increased distribution centers, make LTL more desirable by decreasing the average length of haul and keeping our truckers more localized.
• Lower Regulated Driving Age – The 18-20-year-old group has the highest rate of unemployment of any age bracket. Having the age minimum of a commercial truck driver set at 21 eliminates a large pool of competent workers from filling open positions.
• Target Minorities, Women, and Veterans – To effectively address the driver shortage, trucking companies should look for ways to entice more women, minorities, and veterans. Minorities and Women are an overwhelmingly under-represented group within the trucking industry. Veterans is another source of “low-hanging fruit” as many are looking to transition into fulfilling careers.
• Autonomous Trucking - With the advanced technology autonomous trucking brings, along with the benefits of reducing daily driving stress and boredom, it’s sure to attract young, tech-savvy drivers to the industry.
• Utilizing Less than Truckload Shipping – On the Road (OTR) and full-truckload (FTL) shipping methods are where the majority of the driver shortage takes place, as these methods require a lot of time on the road and that hard truck driver lifestyle. LTL and parcel drivers, on the other hand, come home every night.
Currently, we have a driver shortage of 48,000 and when aligning these numbers with freight forecasts, we could have a shortage of 330,000 drivers by 2024 (Update: as of 2021, ATA says we need another 80,000 truck drivers). If carriers start thinking more strategically about untapped workforce pools and continue to offer comprehensive benefits packages with competitive pay, we can fix this problem. Another option is to focus your shipping needs on less than truckload shipping, where drivers are given shorter, more localized routes, allowing them to come home each night. To learn more about how less than truckload shipping can save your company money, contact us here at Redwood Logistics.