Combating the Driver Shortage: From the Carrier’s Perspective

There is no denying that the trucking industry is in a state of flux right now. Even though demand is rising, the industry as a whole is facing a monumental shortage of qualified drivers. Just how big is that shortage? By the end of 2015, the driver shortage had ballooned past 45,000. Some estimates indicate that the shortage could reach over 150,000 by 2024. That is a scary thought, and one that will certainly drive up the cost of truck shipments.

But why is there a shortage of drivers and how can the industry turn it around? First and foremost, wage growth has been stagnant for 30 years in the trucking industry. Over the last year or so, trucking companies have tried to fix the situation by offering better pay and larger signing bonuses. However, as the economy has recovered, the number of industries that are hiring is increasing. And this has caused would-be truck drivers to seek out other opportunities, generally ones that pay at least as well without all the travel time on the road.

Another factor that is impacting the shortage is the average age of drivers. The truck driving industry employs an older generation of workers. The average age of truck drivers is creeping north of 50, with many of these drivers on the verge of retirement. The industry is simply not attracting a younger set of drivers of these days. As more drivers retire, the shortage will only increase.

A few months ago I was a conference where one of the panels examined the trucking industry from the carrier’s perspective. In the panel, carriers talked openly about what they are doing to attract more qualified drivers, and what they see as the future of the trucking industry. Everyone was in agreement that there has to be a shift in thinking and that something must be done about the driver shortage or the industry as a whole is in serious trouble.

The first theme to emerge was around driver pay. According to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), 34% of trucking’s operational costs per mile is driver pay. As fuel prices have decreased, it pushes driver pay as the top operational cost for carriers. As demand increases, it only drives up the cost per driver. However, the carriers were in agreement that better pay, and better benefits, will help to attract more qualified drivers. As with most problems, if you throw money at it, it can be part of the solution.

The second theme to emerge was around autonomous, or driverless, trucks. I’ve actually written about this before as a possible solution to the driver shortage. Driverless trucks could be part of the solution, but considering that any autonomous truck currently in production still needs a qualified driver in the truck while it is operating, it will not be the solution everyone is hoping for. But, it does have its own unique set of benefits, including: no lost time to snacks, meals, or hours mandates; no fatigue issues to deal with; and resources can be dedicated to other tasks, to name a few. However, in the wake of the fatal Tesla autonomous car accident, public perception of autonomous vehicles is likely to set the industry back.

The third theme to emerge, and the one that generated the most interest as a viable solution to the industry’s driver shortage, was to actively recruit new segments of the population to join the industry. There were two main segments that carriers are actively recruiting. The first is females. Currently, only about 6% of drivers are female, despite the fact that females make up 47% of all US workers. This represents a major untapped market. A major draw for women into the trucking world is the fact that they will make the same money as their peers, as they get paid by the mile or the load of the percentage. Schneider, along with many other carriers, have converted their entire fleet over to automatic transmissions. This is a move geared entirely towards recruiting female drivers.

The second population segment that these companies are aggressively targeting are millennials. With the average age of truck drivers trending up, new recruits need to be young. Better pay packages and benefits are one of the ways carriers are trying to woo millennials. Carriers are also updating technology within the cab, as millennials are generally accustomed to receiving information on demand. One of the big issues, however, is the fact that current age requirements to drive a tractor-trailer across interstate lines is 21. This eliminates eligible employees between the ages of 18 and 21, who will find work elsewhere.

The driver shortage is showing no signs of slowing down, and is putting the future of the trucking industry in flux. If the shortage continues to balloon to what some analysts expect to be 150,000 by 2024, the cost of using trucks, and the timeframes in which goods will be delivered, could cripple the industry. However, companies are looking at a few new ways to reduce the driver shortage. First, they are offering better salary and benefits packages for new drivers. Second, they are looking at the possibility of autonomous trucks as a stopgap for the problem. And third, and most importantly, carriers are actively recruiting individuals from untapped labor pools: females and millennials. This last effort could make the biggest difference in the future of trucking.

Comments

  1. The other deterrent would be the emergence of driverless trucks at some point in the next 10 years or so. committing to a career where you know jobs could disappear very quickly would not be wise for most people.

  2. Funny
    I’m an experience truck driver O/O with over 20 years and plenty over 2 mil miles and nobody wants to pay something decent but they need drivers and they need safe drivers.
    And while my truck is sitting empty with no freight the shipper prefer cheap drivers with cheap trucks and they don’t give a penny about my experience and excellent equipment.
    The only think they care is how to pay low for shipping and how to treat me like I am a piece of trash,example just this morning at Aldi distr in S. Windsor CT people at security gate are so low.
    You can reach me at Romstartransportation.com or MC 890518 with any comment or if you doubt my comment.
    Steven Harrison

  3. I am sorry to inform you that the only way for companies to weasel out of the so called driver is……….are you ready for this?……. Better pay. The way rates fluctuate says it all. There are now trucks out here in the real world with non English speaking drivers in them working for practily nothing. There are brokers trying to tell people they can get their freight hauled for pennies this industry is fastly becoming a bigger joke everyday. I haul equipment and I’m lucky I have a lot of my own customers. The other day one of my customers called and sold a D7 caterpillar over seas it needed to go to the port in Houston, Tx. The party that bought the machine hired brokerage to get it hauled, the brokerage some how got my number and called me,when ask them what kind of rate they were willing to pay I laughed! They told me that a D7 dozer with a 12ft blade was a partial and wanted to pay $1000.00 to haul the machine 800 miles!!! Needless to say the machine is still setting where it was sold, but I know there will be someone who don’t know what that size machine is will show up someday to load it!!!

  4. Dont belive this article of driver shortage.. It is not true… Big carriers with a brokerage divisision and other cheap freight brokers hoggd up all the contracts with the shippers and has been trying to get owner opperators to haul these loads for no proffit(cheap freight)the shippers dont want to contract with owner opperaters that has less then ten trucks.. They say they dont want to make arrangments on the phone to look for an owner opperator to arrange transport if there load. They say its too time consuming, when all they have to do is call a brokerage company and have them telemarket owner opperators all day to solicit cheap freight..

  5. The driver shortage is a myth. Fleets suffer from driver churn, a continual turnover of their driving staff. Fleets have a driver turnover rate of over 100%. Who else besides McDonalds would accept this? Put more effort into driver retention and your trucks will be full.

  6. There is no question there is a shortage of qualified truck drivers, and the solutions discussed above can clearly help. But there is an often-overlooked issue that carriers and private fleets must face. If addressed correctly, it could substantially increase the odds of new employees considering truck driving as a career option – including millenials and others. The problem is related to both pay and lifestyle in trucking, but the problem arises even before someone considers whether to go into trucking. Our company – SAGE Truck Driving Schools — runs 25 truck driving schools across the country, and the number one issue facing people who want to become a professional driver is the cost of training. And it is a significant barrier to entry that severely limits the pool of qualified candidates. Essentially, the trucking industry tells people considering trucking that “this is a tough job, and the lifestyle is difficult, and you need to pay a fee to get into it.” That’s not a very attractive offer for someone who is already unemployed, under-employed, or considering a career change. The fact is, there really is not a shortage of people who are willing and physically able to be truck drivers. There is a shortage of people who have the resources to make the up-front investment in CDL training. We get thousands of calls from people who want to be a driver, but cannot afford our nationally-recognized training. Carriers must be realistic that federal workforce training funds are not enough to develop a pool of qualified drivers. We have many companies that have already determined that they must help people get into this industry if they are going to address the ever-shrinking pool of truck drivers. The bottom line is that forward-thinking companies are now providing financial assistance to help good candidates enter the industry. The programs range from partial assistance to full funding, with some form of agreement to work for the company providing the help. And new drivers appreciate it and reward the carrier with loyalty. Importantly, I am not talking about the one or two week “free CDL training” schemes some big carriers offer that lock new drivers into a year of driving at low per mile rates. These programs usually result in unsafe and unsatisfied drivers who leave the industry. Instead, companies should work with reputable schools with comprehensive programs, and offer some financial help for those who want to enter the industry. Those carriers that are doing it will have drivers, and those who do not will struggle to recruit from the shrinking pool.

  7. Women Truckers resent this campaign to dumb down trucking to accommodate them. Women have been driving freight trucks since they were developed in the early 1900’s, Google “Luella Bates” .

    It is also a myth about equal pay in trucking. Perhaps in entry level very low wage carriers that train students the pay is equal but there are significant gender pay disparities when you start looking deeper at experienced level driving jobs.

    Our organization mentors women who are entering truck driver training to help them avoid misleading recruiting ads and training carriers where sex assaults are more likely to occur. I am disappointed when these women call me explaining that they thought all the trucks were automatics and they didn’t think they would need to pay attention to shifting at their CDL school. They get these ideas from articles and organizations that put out dumbed down propaganda to lure in more student labor that can be exploited and churned.

    Women must understand that this job is not a easy and respect is earned not given. You are setting people up to fail when you minimize the realities of truck driving, the personal commitment and responsibility. What we should be doing to support women and men entering trucking is to eliminate organizations from the supply chain rotation who are allowing continued sex assaults, harassment, retaliation and discrimination to occur. If anyone would like more information on that I am happy to educate you on the topic.

  8. […] Combating the Driver Shortage: From the Carrier’s Perspective: There is no denying that the trucking industry is in a state of flux right now. Even though demand is rising, the industry as a whole is facing a monumental shortage of qualified drivers. But why is there a shortage of drivers, and how can we turn it around? […]