Do a quick search for a Class A Truck Driver on the popular job hunting site Indeed.com. I guarantee you’ll find a plethora of ads that make it obvious whoever wrote them was desperate for drivers to click. In capital letters, they’ll scream of perks and benefits well before even describing the responsibilities of the job.
Welcome to the truck driver shortage crisis.
Analysts estimate the industry is short anywhere from 35,000-40,000 truckers every year. That number could balloon to an incredible 200,000 by the next decade if the problem is not solved. Given that 68 percent of freight tonnage is moved by trucks, this could definitely increase the cost of shipping freight.
Why is there such a shortage? What gives?
Reason #1 - New drivers are calling it quits
One stunning statistic gets to the heart of the issue. Over 380,000 CDLs were issued in 2014, but fully half of those drivers left the profession within six months. The nature of the job calls for long grueling hours on the road, leaving home for days or weeks at a time, and living life at rest stops. It’s truly a lifestyle rather than a job. For some, it works and becomes a point of pride. “Just me and the open road.” But it’s not for everyone. Increasingly for the younger generation, it doesn’t work. Just the solitude itself can be something that convinces young drivers to quit---almost as soon as they start.
And that’s a troubling trend because truckers are older. The truck driver profession is among one of the oldest in any sector, at an average age of 49 years old. Once the Baby Boomers retire, the industry will be left with an even bigger shortage if we can’t attract younger drivers into the profession.
Reason #2 - Pay has not kept pace with inflation
It’s always been an unconventional life for the trucker, but at least in the ‘80s and ‘90s when the “trucking generation” started on their careers, the pay was higher. In 1980, truckers earned an average of $38000 per year, which adjusted for inflation would be $111,000 today. Wages have not kept pace with inflation. What once probably made the trucker lifestyle easier to get used to is no longer a benefit. Especially when there are other comparably compensated blue collar jobs that don’t require leaving home for weeks at a time, potential truckers are seeing more attractive opportunities elsewhere. Some companies are already trying to entice good drivers into their ranks with higher wages, generous benefits, and sign-on bonuses, but freight rates are at all time lows right now, meaning that trucker wages will likely remain depressed for some time. This is a sign that the shortage hasn’t become a crisis yet. In the case of a crisis, the laws of supply and demand will adjust itself more boldly and higher wages will be passed on to higher freight rates.
Reason #3 - Federal regulations don’t help
By the end of 2017, federal regulations will mandate each driver to have an Electronic Logging Device that broadcasts his speed and location to the shipper. The mandate is wildly unpopular with independent truckers, with many saying that they’ll leave the business if it were to be implemented. Although the law is meant to regulate hours on the road, it represents a loss of freedom for the trucker. As one unhappy trucker told The Washington Post, “The industry is going to lose a whole section of very safe drivers who could work for a few more years and are just going to call it quits.”
The ELD regulation has the potential to drive truckers out of the profession, but another regulation is making it less likely for younger workers to join the profession. Currently, federal law only allows people 21 years and older to hold a Class A driver’s license that would allow them to haul freight across state lines. Since most people who become truckers don’t attend college, it’s critical for the industry to capture the interest of high school graduates at the time that they finish school. By the time they are 21, they have probably already found another profession in the construction or service industries. Both these federal regulations are intended to improve safety, but are also inadvertently obstacles to attracting and retaining truckers.
How to attract people into the industry
Aside from the obvious pay raise, one important task is to attack the image problem of the trucking industry. Trucking used to be a more respected profession. When the “trucking generation” started their careers, truckers were seen as “cowboys of the highway.” The rugged individualism of the profession certainly helped draw in a generation of young men. Nowadays, truckers have to battle with negative stereotypes - the dirty and foul-mouthed, overweight man who is hopped up on drugs. With more freight on the roads than ever, we will be needing as many new truckers as possible. With an image like that, the industry is losing out on a broad swath of population who will never even seriously consider the profession.