Every single day, across the country, people rely on the commercial trucking industry to receive necessary goods. From the food we eat to the construction materials that are used to build our homes, we cannot function without the hard work of truck drivers.
And, if the pandemic taught us anything, it's that when the supply chain is affected, we are all affected in major ways.
As we enter the second half of 2021, it is apparent that there is a real need for an increase in the number of truck drivers entering the job force. But the recent shortage of truck drivers is no new phenomenon. Which leads to the question, what is the real reason for the recent shortage of truck drivers, and what can be done to close this gap?
Understanding the Ongoing Shortage Issue
According to the American Trucking Association (ATA) in 2018, the trucking industry was short nearly 61,000 drivers. This number had increased by 20% since 2017, and the ATA’s Chief Economist, Bob Costello, went on to project that the industry could be short just over 100,000 drivers in five years and 160,000 drivers by 2028.
This shortage of truck drivers leads to a slew of problems. For starters, with a shortage of truck drivers, industries are left without the goods they need to operate and consumers are often left with a shortage of supplies.
To compound the issue, trucking and transportation businesses are at risk of profit loss. An empty, parked truck can cost a business around $1,000 a day in losses.
While the driver shortage isn’t new, what is at the root of the ongoing lack of drivers? The answer can be broken down into four key areas.
1: An Aging Driver Population
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of a commercial truck driver in the United States is 55 years old. As the age of the average truck driver continues to rise, a problem unfolds — our drivers are now nearing retirement. And, with the fears of the pandemic, many of these drivers have chosen to retire early or even look for alternative careers to protect their health.
Within the next decade, the country will begin to see more and more of these drivers enter retirement. Therefore, unless an equal or greater number of new drivers are trained over the course of the next decade, we will only see an uptick in driver shortages.
This leads us to the second complication — the federal requirements around the age of commercial truck drivers.
2: 21-Year-Old Interstate Driver Requirement
While 18 year-olds can hold commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) in 49 states, federal regulations do not allow these drivers to operate across state lines. There is a 21-year-old interstate driver requirement which means a driver under 21 years old cannot become a long haul driver.
This makes it difficult to recruit new drivers before they enter college or the military.
Many in the trucking industry are fighting for the DRIVE-Safe Act in Congress, which would allow 18-year-olds to drive commercial vehicles across state lines.
If this Act is passed then the commercial trucking businesses could showcase the benefits of the job to recent high school graduates. This could in turn ensure that these students have a chance to explore this vocation as they graduate.
Until this act passes, it is extremely difficult to recruit young drivers.
3: A Need for Diversity in the Industry
In addition to a lack of young drivers entering the workforce, there is a lack of diversity in the trucking industry.
According to the ATA, only 6.6% of truck drivers in the United States are female, in contrast with the 50.4% of women in the U.S. workforce. Additionally, minorities only make up 40.4% of truck drivers.
Here lies a vast amount of potential for the trucking industry. With an increase in diversity, there is a greater chance of combatting the shortage of truck drivers.
Not only that, but a more diverse workforce will benefit the trucking industry as it will increase inclusivity and improve the diversity of thoughts and ideas.
How the trucking industry responds to its lack of diversity will play a big role in its future.
4: A Retention Problem
Rounding out the landscape of the truck driver shortage is the industry’s inability to retain drivers for long periods of time. According to the ATA, on average, the annual turnover rate for long-haul truck drivers for large trucking companies is greater than 90%. And this isn’t a recent issue. This retention rate has been greater than 90% for decades.
This is a gigantic problem. For every 10 truck drivers recruited into the long-haul trucking industry, nine of them will quit within a year.
So what is at the root of the issue of driver retention? The reality is that there is no one easy answer. However, in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a truck driver was $47,130 per year or $22.66 per hour. While this number is competitive in comparison to many other blue-collar jobs, long-haul truck drivers work extremely long hours and are required to spend large amounts of time away from home. This makes it hard to attract long-term drivers.
Realistically, to combat a driver shortage, companies will need to explore ways to compensate drivers for time spent away from family and home. The industry needs to focus on ways to improve retention now and in the future.
Transwest — Supporting the Trucking Industry Throughout the Years
At Transwest, we understand that the shortage of truck drivers is an ongoing and complex problem. Our team is here to support your trucking business as you look for the best ways to keep your fleet on the road to deliver goods across the nation.
If you are in need of a new commercial truck for your fleet, vehicle maintenance, parts, or even assistance with financing options, we are here to help. Come visit us at one of our many convenient locations today.
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