It’s no secret: there aren’t enough truck drivers in America. And the situation isn’t getting any better. For the past few years, truck driver shortage is estimated to be around 30,000 a year. This year, we’re 48,000 drivers short. While some analysts say the shortage will eventually remain fixed at around 100,000, others are also saying that around 89,000 drivers will need to be hired for the next ten years to compensate for the current shortage, or else 30,000 can easily rise up to hundreds of thousands.
What’s causing the driver shortage?
There are several factors that are contributing to the problem of truck driver shortage. The most notable are:
Age: The minimum age requirement to drive tractor-trailers across interstate lines is 21. This means the trucking industry is missing out on employing the younger population (between 18 and 21) who will most likely be lured into other industries instead of waiting around to be old enough to drive the big trucks. Moreover, the average age of truck drivers is now around 55. That means that many of them will be retiring in 10 – 20 years. And if no new drivers come in, that’s going to increase shortage even more.
Gender: According to statistics, female workers make up about 47% of the labor force. Even with this large number, the number of women truck drivers has remained stagnant at 6%. If only more women were willing to become part of the industry, the shortage might not be as alarming.
Lifestyle: A truck driver is on the road for long periods of time — away from family, away from friends. For many, this is not a lifestyle that they envision for themselves, even if they do love driving. Instead of staying on, some truck drivers will opt to shift to other driving positions where they are at home is much more regular. Worse, some drivers will just decide to shift to a totally different industry.
Regulations: Changes are inevitable, but aren’t always welcome. In the trucking industry, it’s no different. When changes in driving regulations are implemented, say, a reduction in the maximum number of hours on the road per day, the consequence is decreased productivity. With fewer service hours, more drivers will be needed to accomplish the same amount of work.
Low Pay: It’s pretty basic. It’s difficult to keep doing something when you’re not earning nearly enough to compensate for the time and effort that you put into it.
What are the effects of the driver shortage?
Because of the shortage, trucking companies are forced to offer higher wages to acquire new drivers. The problem is, high pay doesn’t attract ‘new’ drivers per se. Instead, drivers from other companies become inclined to move from one company to another. So instead of solving the driver shortage problem, offering higher pay is making things worse, with drivers just moving around, instead of new drivers being added.If the truck driver shortage isn’t addressed, it will have a significant impact on the country’s economy. As the shortage forces trucking companies to increase driver pay, supplier costs also rise, and soon after, consumers will feel the effects as the prices of goods are driven up as well. And it won’t end there.
Insufficient number of drivers will mean delayed delivery of goods, with some getting spoiled or damaged as a result of longer travel and storage time. Lesser supply will likely result in further increase in retail cost. And the cycle will just go on. Unless something is done soon.
What can solve the driver shortage?
Trucking companies should focus on implementing programs and policies that will motivate drivers to stay with them. Recruitment is easier than retention. To add new drivers, you just need to offer an attractive compensation package. To make them stay, you have to build their loyalty. To do that, you have to make them feel how much they are valued. It starts with competitive pay and benefits, sufficient and reasonable at-home time, productive work conditions and dependable equipment. But you have to go beyond monetary compensation.
You have to make sure that you always treat your drivers with respect — they’re not just working for you, they’re working with you. And, there’s a need for constant communication too — making it a point to always be aware of what’s going on so problems and improvement areas can be addressed as soon as they manifest, before the situation becomes too difficult to solve.
Aside from driver retention, the trucking industry has to make some changes that will entice more women to consider shifting to a trucking career. For example, the driver seat may need to be redesigned to offer more flexibility, so it will be a comfortable seat, whether it’s a man or a woman driver who sits on it. And the truck stops need to have better shower areas too. Plus, there’s also the matter of changing the stereotype that truck driving is a man’s job. Someone might also have to initiate a change in current regulations. Specifically, the minimum truck driving age. Maybe the age requirement can be lowered to 18.
Another solution that can potentially end the driver shortage, though it’s still a long way off, is automation. While the technology is already in place, much development still needs to be done before fully automated trucks can hit the road. In summary, finding a solution always begins with acknowledging that there is something to be fixed. But that’s just the beginning. If we hope to solve the truck driver shortage problem before it becomes too debilitating to our economy, we have to start doing something now.