The trucker shortage has been a growing problem recently. Unfortunately, it seems like the light at the end of the tunnel is still a long ways off. In October 2015, the ATA released a report on the status of the trucker shortage in the US. The shortage itself came as no surprise; the industry has been dealing with on and off shortage for the last 15 years.
Where the Shortage Started
During its earliest years, the shortage began with an estimated 20,000 – a small blip on the radar. It continued to fluctuate along with the recession. 2008 saw a drop in industry volume and a smaller need for truckers. But in 2014, the shortage returned and the number exploded to 38,000.
Since then, the ATA has been keeping an eye on the growing numbers, and carriers have been implementing their own strategies to increase driver retention. The report released in October estimates that the shortage has grown to 48,000. But the prediction for the future is what’s most threatening to the industry. The ATA believes the industry will be short a whopping 175,000 drivers by 2024. The report also found that:
- On average, the industry will need to hire 89,000 drivers per year to keep up with the shortage.
- The shortage is in part due to almost half (45%) of truckers reaching retirement, with industry growth accounting for 33% of the shortage.
- A separate report found that driver turnover rates average 87% for larger fleets and 76% for smaller fleets. This isn’t a historic high, but when combined with other factors influencing the shortage, it’s certainly a cause for concern.
The Need for More Experienced Drivers
The problem is a combination of quantity and quality. While it’s true many truckers are retiring and not enough are applying, it doesn’t stop there. ATA reports have found that 88% of driver applicants aren’t qualified enough. That means carriers are shifting their focus to retaining existing drivers and educating them at a younger age.
Training Drivers From a Younger Age
The current interstate trucking age is 21. Drivers under 21 aren’t allowed to cross state lines, meaning the industry loses out on quite a bit of potential. Because fleets can’t recruit out of high school, many potential candidates have already found other careers by the time they reach legal truck-driving age. As such, the industry is pushing to lower the driving age to 18, with supervised trips, extended training programs, and more stringent CDL requirements.
Offering Better Pay and Incentives
Fleets are also trying to make the industry more attractive, both to newcomers and veterans. Pay raises have been popular across the board, in addition to sign-on bonuses and tuition reimbursement. Werner Enterprises, one of the largest fleets in the US, increased its pay by 10% in the past year. That’s an average of $5,000 per year per truck driver. But still, president and COO Derek Leathers (among other industry executives) doesn’t feel it will be enough. It’s not only about money; it’s about a combination of incentives that make the industry more comfortable, safe, and attractive.
The Future of the Shortage
The trucking industry tends to be transient in nature as it is. Add that to the growing capacity crunch and constant changes to safety and environmental regulations, and it’s easy to see why the shortage continues to grow. Hopefully, with better pay and other incentives in addition to a younger driving age, we’ll start to see the shortage plateau and eventually fall off.