Truck driver shortage: The current state and how to fight it.

Truck drivers

The truck driver shortage is not a new conversation, but it is a relevant one. The freight industry still does not have enough truck drivers to support the amount of freight that needs to be moved.

It began in 2008 with the number of truck drivers rapidly tumbling until finally bottoming out in 2010. There has been growth each year since, but we are still behind. In fact, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) reported at the end of 2015 that the shortage could swell to nearly 175,000 by 2024 if current trends hold.

As expected, there is significant concern and much discussion around how and when the number of truck drivers on the road will return to demand appropriate levels.


Contributing factors to the truck driver shortage.

The top contributing factors of the current truck driver shortage include: 

  • Work-life balance
  • Driver age
  • The recruiting funnel


Work-life balance.

Former truck driver, Grant Bunton, spoke of driving over the road and the want of more home time, “It’s a very difficult lifestyle. It’s a blast, but it’s difficult. You do get to see lots of places but rarely do you have time to actually stop and take in the scenery. After about three years of driving, I met my lovely wife one weekend when I was home. At that point I knew that I would want to spend more than 36 hours per week at home.”  

Work-life balance has been growing in priority in the US for quite some time and it seems truck drivers have taken notice. “We’ll get you home more often” is an anthem sung by many trucking companies in their driver recruiting efforts. While pay is a major factor, time in your own bed seems to be just as important. Schneider National is, along with many other carriers, addressing the money issue by raising driver pay, but they are also putting emphasis on getting their drivers home more often in an effort to improve the balance between work and home (Source).


Driver age.

A problem that can’t be combatted with pay raises or more home time is age. It is one of the first things to mind when looking at the truck driver shortage. Not only is recruiting and retaining drivers a challenge, but there is a large number nearing retirement age. The ATA reports that the current average driver age in the OTR (Over-the-Road) TL (Truckload) industry is 49. So, it sounds like it’s time to start some heavy recruiting, right?


The recruiting funnel.

The industry has upped recruiting efforts in order to fill the gap. Those efforts include targeting women and transitioning military veterans along with traditional methods like recruiting from driving schools and attracting drivers already on the road. The FMSCA is proposing a pilot program allowing drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce if they have received specified heavy-vehicle driver training while in the military service.

Appealing to the younger audience is still a challenge. They prefer industries like technology or health care to life on the open road (Source). So, how are we going to find the additional 90,000 + drivers that the ATA Benchmarking Guide for Driver Recruitment and Retention says are needed each year over the next decade? One theory, talk about it and share within social networks. Are people outside of the freight industry aware of this need?


Final thoughts.

While the shortage of carriers is quite painful for the companies that need to move their goods, the carrier side of the freight industry has seen a lift in pricing as demand has grown. The shortage of over the road drivers has had a positive impact on LTL and intermodal freight as well. LTL carriers are picking up freight they may not have if not for the capacity shortage from lack of long haul drivers, giving them greater control of pricing.

The same can be said of intermodal. This finds many shippers turning to freight service providers for help with controlling cost and locating trucks. Freightquote founder, Tim Barton, in an interview with the Kansas City Business Journal said, “…if you increase demand, and you artificially suppress supply…then in a very fragmented market like freight, the best thing to do then is go to third parties like us” (Source).


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