The driver drought has been going on for a number of years, but has recently reached an all-time high. According to a report by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), at the end of 2015, there was a shortage of nearly 50,000 truckers in the United States. That’s up from a shortage of 30,000 truckers just two years before.
The lack of truckers in the U.S. not only hurts the trucking companies; it has a ripple effect on the economy. Businesses need truck drivers to move goods. Having a shortage of drivers doesn’t only affect how quickly you get your Amazon order, but also how quickly essentials like food and gas are delivered to supermarkets and gas stations. Since this is one of the few jobs that cannot be outsourced overseas, the shortage has the potential to drive up the cost of goods, ultimately hurting the U.S. economy.
If the lifestyle of a long-haul trucker wasn’t enough of a deterrent, until recently, the median salary for truck drivers struggled to keep up with inflation. According to information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which includes paying for local delivery drivers in addition to long-haul drivers, truck driver salaries were effectively lower in 2014 than they were in 2000. With a retiring workforce and continued industry growth, the shortage of truck drivers will only continue to increase. Companies have begun to address this issue head-on with a time-tested, economically proven way to increase demand: offer them more money.
According to the National Transportation Institute, the average pay for long-haul truckers jumped 17 percent since the end of 2013 to a record average salary of $57,000 per year in 2015. Over the same period of time, overall U.S. wages rose less than 4 percent. Economic analyst Rod Suarez told CNBC that as long as the driver shortage continues, we should expect to see driver pay continue to rise.
Women in Trucking, to help cab manufacturers make trucks more adaptable.
The ATA believes that the U.S. trucking industry will have to hire an average of 89,000 drivers per year over the next decade to deal with the rising demand for domestic freight transportation. To meet that goal, many are looking at more than just yearly income. They are searching for new solutions to find more qualified drivers, such as targeting new demographics.
While interstate laws require drivers to be at least 21 years old, the median age of truck drivers in the U.S. is 49. The ATA believes the combination of baby boomers nearing retirement age along with younger drivers not being eligible to drive on the interstate is a major contributing factor to the driver shortage. While some have suggested lowering the minimum age to drive on the interstate to widen the job pool, opponents cite crash statistics, increased insurance premiums and the risk associated with putting inexperienced drivers on the road as more than enough reason not to.
While younger drivers may not be the answer, targeting groups that are often overlooked may be the solution to expanding the driver workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 there were more female construction managers and mechanical engineers than female truck drivers, who represented a meager 6% of the industry. Many companies are attempting to remove the obstacles that keep women from getting behind the wheel.
Ryder Dedicated, a logistics outsourcing division of Ryder System Inc., announced their partnership with the nonprofit advocacy group, Women in Trucking, to help cab manufacturers make trucks more adaptable. That means adjustable seats and pedals for shorter drivers, lower steps for accessing cabs and freight, and less fatiguing automatic transmissions. In addition to increasing the driver pay and sign-on bonuses, the ATA proposes that companies offer their drivers more at home time, a factor that could help bring in more female applicants concerned about being away from their family for too long.
Another overlooked group that could help solve the driver shortage are military veterans. Not only do veterans typically have higher unemployment rates than the general population, many come equipped with skills that civilians just don’t have. When it comes to a job that requires long stretches of time away from home, strict adherence to schedules, the ability to perform under pressure, and make snap decisions– who’s more qualified than our veterans? FASTPORT, a trucking-specific hiring technology company, is one of the many companies working to get veterans into the driver’s seat. In October 2015, they announced their partnership with “Hiring America,” a TV show that helps veterans transition to civilian jobs.
“They’re used to working around equipment that moves,” said Bill McLennan, CEO of FASTPORT. “They know how to train and be trained and the importance of staying current in their skill set. They’re mission oriented; they know how to achieve an objective; they work outside in all kinds of terrain and weather conditions. So there’s a lot of similarities between what they do in the military and what the trucking industry does, and that’s regardless of what their military occupation or specialty is.”
While companies continue to think outside the box to address the ever-worsening driver shortage, one thing is for sure: the recent pay bump is the first glimmer of hope for recovery that the industry has seen in years. If all goes well, this could be a major turning point in the ongoing struggle to meet the demand for drivers.