Trucks drive our economy. In fact, nearly seventy percent of freight in the US is transported using trucks. With such a large portion of our toys and necessities being delivered to us via trucks and truckers, the current truck driver shortage is sure to hit you in the wallet eventually since increased driver rates are typically passed on to the consumer.
Examining the current trucker shortage and possible solutions to some common trucking industry problems will set us up for a smooth transition into the next decade and beyond.
Why is there a shortage of truck drivers?
In order to talk about how we fix things, we have to first look at how we arrived here in the first place. Lots of people are under the impression that the shortage of long haul truck drivers is a recent and direct result of the Covid pandemic. Although the pandemic exacerbated the shortage, it’s been brewing for years.
Driver demand exceeded supply by around 60k in 2019 and has hovered in that range over the past couple of years. As large as that number is, it’s actually projected to get worse in the coming years. We could see that number nearly triple in the next 5 to 10 years if we don’t work on the solutions to the truck driver shortage now.
What is the main reason behind the trucker shortage?
One of the main drivers in this discrepancy is that our current drivers are retiring faster than new drivers are signing on. If we want to effectively tackle the trucking shortage, we need to increase the size of the talent pool being groomed to take the place of retirees.
In addition to those in the ranks that are retiring, there are other forces that are causing our current freight drivers to ditch their lives on the road. Modern improvements that have made freight transport safer have also led to some truck drivers losing jobs. Things like in-cab cameras, driving time limits, and increased drug testing sometimes weed out drivers. Those who can’t hack the new technology and its requirements fall to the side and need to be replaced. There are several ways to do this.
How do you solve a truck driver shortage?
The easy answer is that we need more drivers. But where are we going to find them? Covid has shut down or reduced services for many schools and testing centers, so it takes longer to get candidates ready to drive. Things are finally turning around as cities and states open back up, but we still need quality candidates to fill the schools and take the tests.
Since we will need to train so many new drivers for the future, we need to target demographics of truck drivers that have historically been very underrepresented in the talent pool to fill the vast number of projected vacancies. These new trucker demographics include women, minorities, veterans, and younger people.
Hiring younger drivers
Of all the reasons for truck driver shortages currently affecting the US, one of the largest may be the average age of truck drivers. With an average age of 55, it’s easy to see why so many career truckers will be retiring over the next decade.
Attracting new candidates in the years after they leave high school would be ideal for hiring drivers who have many years on the road ahead of them, but there is a catch. Current regulations restrict interstate transport to drivers who are at least 21 years old. By the time our young adults reach 21, many of them have already hitched onto another career path. That means this largely unemployed age group is effectively removed from the market for now.
Hiring more women
Trucking has always been seen as a man’s game. The result is that women make up only around 6% of truckers in the US, even though they make up 47% of the total workforce. By shifting the way we view stereotypical truckers and getting more women on the road, we can change the way women view jobs in the truck driving industry.
Hiring more minorities
This is one area where carriers have been making significant strides. The percentage of minority drivers have increased exponentially over the past decade, and they now make up roughly 40% of drivers on the road. The trucking industry driver shortage has companies expanding their driver pools, and minorities are doing a lot to pick up the workload.
Hiring more veterans
Veterans are great candidates for the trucking industry because they often have skills that directly apply. They are disciplined, committed to service and safety, and many already have acquired a number of the technical skills required to operate large vehicles and hazardous materials.
Increase pay for drivers
One of the most surefire ways to attract new talent to any industry is by increasing pay. With all the lifestyle demands that go along with this line of work, it’s easy for people to brush off the career path if they don’t feel it pays them what they are worth. Most carriers have been implementing things like pay increases and benefits to navigate the truck driver shortage and meet the surging demand brought on by the pandemic.
Keep drivers near home
A big reason many people avoid the trucking industry is because it can involve large amounts of time away from home. Living out of trucks and truck stops can be a hard pill to swallow for those of us accustomed to highly social lifestyles, lived with the benefit of our modern conveniences. The life of a driver doesn’t have to look like that.
By utilizing more LTL freight, drivers are able to complete their routes and return home each night. This gives them quality time with their friends and families and helps counter some of the problems truckers face due to a largely sedentary lifestyle and fast and convenience food diets.
Planning for the future
While there is no immediate solution to the truck driver shortage we are experiencing, forward-thinking carriers are making the necessary adjustments to keep our freight moving and protect the future of the industry
. By expanding the driver pool and keeping drivers happy and healthy, both physically and mentally, we’ll be able to meet the shipping needs of our expanding population and provide solid careers for our citizens.