Exploring America’s Truck Driver Shortage

Exploring America’s Truck Driver Shortage
August 28, 2018 Aldo Flores
Semi truck traveling down a highway

Ask anyone in the trucking industry why there’s a truck driver shortage, and you will hear all kinds of answers. Theories and speculation alike, the reality is, this driver shortage has the potential to raise freight rates and hurt the economy. To overcome this shortage, trucking companies and shippers are searching for truck driver shortage solutions. Yet the first step is to identify what is creating this lack of qualified drivers to fill trucking jobs in the U.S.

Why Is There a Truck Driver Shortage?

In what is considered the perfect storm of employment for trucking, several factors are at play in the national truck driver shortage. The Great Recession in the early 2000s forced out truck drivers and SMB carriers that were unable to stay in business. At the same time, the baby boomer generation is reaching its peak retirement years. Unfortunately, the average age of a truck driver is 55, which is a decade older than comparable industries.

As baby boomers retire, those seats are being unfilled by millennials and Generation Z employees. Thanks to better education and improved computer technology, those generational employees are not looking at trucking for work. A major reason for this has to do with the lifestyle of a truck driver, especially for long-haul truck drivers.

These drivers are away from home for weeks on end, living in their trucks. This is physically, emotionally and mentally taxing. For many potential truckers, there are far more comfortable jobs to take, which is only exacerbating the driver shortage.

Impact of Driver Shortage

According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the trucking industry accounts for 71 percent of all freight hauled in the U.S. There are 3.5 million truck drivers — including approximately 500,000 long-haul truck drivers. In terms of the driver shortage, the ATA reports the industry was short 45,000 drivers in 2015.

That figure is expected to have reached its peak in 2017 in relation to the electronic logging devices mandate and freight volume recovery. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 108,400 new trucking jobs to fill by 2026. While this is on clip with average job growth, the pending driver shortage will make it difficult to fill these seats.

Solving the Driver Shortage

To overcome the driver shortage, trucking companies want to hire experienced, qualified drivers. New drivers who go through truck driver training can get the skills they need, but they still lack behind-the-wheel experience. This is a catch-22. Experience is essential because it reduces the risk of drivers’ safety and protects shippers from noncompliance.

Another tactic has been to offer sign-on bonuses and pay raises for drivers. In a driver compensation survey released by the ATA in March 2018, driver pay has increased by 13 to 18 percent since 2013. For company truck drivers, the pay increased by $7,000. Private, for-hire truck drivers saw an average salary increase from $73,000 to $86,000.

The concern is that this pay increase is directly reflected among increases in shipping freight rates for customers. As shipping rates continue to climb, this has the potential to hinder the economy. However, with the current explosion of the e-commerce sector for the freight industry, it will take a lot to slow down this bustling market.

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