This post was last updated on November 9th, 2019
The U.S. is facing an unprecedented trucker shortage. According to the American Trucking Associations, America will be short 175,000 drivers by 2026. Even today, a lack of drivers is making goods more expensive and delaying orders. Freight rates are climbing, as there’s more work than truckers can handle.
Will the shortage continue into 2019? All signs point to yes.
It may not seem like a big deal, but the driver shortage affects the entire economy. More than 68% of freight is moved on American highways. The shortage has increased driver pay due to higher demand, and that cost is passed on to the consumer through higher prices.
Why is There a Truck Driver Shortage?
There are plenty of trucking jobs to go around, so why do we have a truck driver shortage when so many Americans report they are looking for better pay?
There are several factors that have led to and exacerbated the trucker shortage, lets dive in to reveal the causes and potential solutions for the industry.
One of the biggest issues affecting the shortage is demographics. The trucking industry is comprised primarily of males aged 45 and older. Women only account for 6% of commercial truck drivers, and while the stereotype is changing, many women still view trucking as a “man’s job.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of a commercial truck driver is 55 years old. A huge percentage of these drivers will be retiring within the next decade. If more young drivers aren’t hired, the industry could be facing a serious dilemma.
Hiring young workers has proved to be difficult for the industry, as federal regulations require drivers to be at least 21 years of age to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License and go through truck driver training.
That three-year gap between high school and being eligible for training may have some would-be drivers choosing different career paths.
A Challenging Lifestyle
The over-the-road lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and that’s another major factor keeping people away from a trucking career. Many drivers, especially rookies, are given routes that keep them on the road for long periods of time. Most only return a few times a month, which can make it challenging to raise a family.
The challenging lifestyle is a big part of the reason why the industry has a 94% turnover rate.
The driver shortage is only making this problem worse. To make up for the lack of drivers, truckers are having to spend even more time on the road, which contributes to burnout.
Even those who don’t mind being out on the road may find it difficult to adapt to living in a truck and showering at rest areas. Many drivers battle insomnia or suffer from sleep deprivation from spending long hours behind the wheel.
Being constantly on the road also limits your food options. The sedentary lifestyle of being a trucker combined with fast/processed food options puts drivers at a greater risk of developing diabetes, digestive problems, and high blood pressure. There are, of course, ways to combat this problem, but the prospect of eating fast food and being on the road all the time may turn a lot of would-be drivers off.
Inefficiency may also be to blame for the shortage. Nearly 20% of trucker miles are driven with empty miles. That equates to about 65 billion empty miles per year, and drivers are not always paid for these miles.
Drivers are also expected to wait up to two hours for a shipment to be loaded or unloaded. But they are not paid for this downtime. Nearly 63% of drivers say they wait three hours or more when they’re at shipping docks.
Adding to the problem, brokering a shipment is still inefficient. It’s not uncommon for freight brokers to arrange shipments through email, phone, and fax. That process can take two to three hours.
Solving the US Truck Driver Shortage
Solving the driver shortage is a complex problem and not one that can be solved with one solution.
But the industry has spoken up about the problem and offered a few potential measures that may reduce or eliminate the shortage.
Lower the Regulated Driving Age
A high school graduate may not want to or have the luxury of waiting three years to train for a job in the trucking industry. Lowering the regulated driving age would allow more young workers to enter the industry and potentially eliminate the driver shortage.
There are many ways to solve the inefficiency problem in the trucking industry.
- Dead head miles can be reduced by notifying drivers of new jobs at their destination before they even arrive there.
- Freight brokerage sites can allow truckers to find and take jobs based on location and pay. Freight processing can be streamlined, reducing the time to just 30 minutes.
Expanding Targeting for Recruiting
Data shows that the majority of truckers are males. Targeting females, veterans and minorities could help bring in more drivers from a diverse range of backgrounds.
Currently, minorities, veterans and women are overwhelmingly unrepresented in the industry. This is a trend we hope to see change in the industry.
Education Job Seekers About Non-Driving Industry Employment Opportunities
This was came to us by a reader named, Jeff V. from Louisville, Kentucky. Jeff was an OTR driver for over a decade before a unrelated accident took him off the road.
Instead of seeking less hours behind the wheel, Jeff went back to the drawing board to find new opportunities that he could leverage with his past industry experience. Jeff now works full-time in the freight factoring industry. He says his OTR experience is crucial for his new career and he doesn’t think he would have been able to be as successful in his new role without his years on the road.
Freight factoring is just one possibility. From dispatch services to insurance brokers, there are many more options outside of simply driving the trucks.
It may seem counterintuitive to recommend investing in autonomous trucking, but it would effectively help solve the trucker shortage. It will still be quite some time before human drivers are entirely replaced by self-driving trucks, but that’s where the future is headed.
And for the time-being, autonomous trucks will still require a driver behind the wheel. Investment in autonomous trucking may attract younger, tech-savvy workers.
Boost Driver Pay
Want to hire more drivers? Pay more.
The over-the-road trucking lifestyle is hard, but more people may be willing to take on that challenge if they’re being paid very well to do so.
Pay increases, comprehensive benefits packages and retirement options will make trucking jobs more appealing to potential drivers. We’re already seeing many companies boosting pay, as they have no other option due to the driver shortage. Truckers saw the second-highest wage increase in July, rising 6.3%.
Many industry experts expect wages to continue rising as the shortage puts a continual strain on the industry. In fact, Wal-Mart just reported that they plan to increase driver wages in 2019 in order to increase retainment.
The trucker shortage will undoubtedly continue into 2019, and there has never been a better time to train to become a trucker.
The higher pay rates and comprehensive benefits packages make up for the long hours on the road, and there’s no need to worry about demand waning anytime in the near future. In fact, demand will only rise as more freight continues to be transported over American highways.
The only obstacle the industry faces is automation, which is still many years away. Self-driving trucks may start making their way onto roads in the near future, but it will likely be decades before we start seeing truly autonomous trucks on roadways.