The American Trucker Shortage
Truck drivers transport over 68% of the economy’s freight across U.S. highways. The ever-growing shortage of truck drivers makes a significant impact on supplier’s bottom lines which eventually effects expenses for the consumer; not to mention it has the potential to increase delays in shipping and inventory shortages in stores.
What Caused America's Trucker Shortage?
In June of 2018 at a “Supply Chain Summit”, it was stated that- “carriers were a primary culprit towards the onset of the (trucker) truck driver shortage”. By forcing carriers to lower prices, it impacted multiple aspects within the trucking industry. While carriers aimed to lower prices, it didn’t change the fact that trucking companies didn’t have much leverage to impact positive change; fuel and its ever-changing prices, driver pay rates, among other aspects. This driver shortage was bound to happen because for years, the industry was not making changes to grow and accommodate for economic growth and lifestyle changes, whereas other sectors were making accommodations.
The recorded statistics at the Bureau of Labor indicate the average age of the U.S. truck drive is 55. According to these alarming statistics most of these truck drivers will retire around the age of 65 and we are approaching an inevitable downfall during the course of the next two decades.
The typical demographic for the truck driving industry focuses primarily on males who are at least 45 years old. If the industry doesn’t quickly make trucking careers appealing, the shortage will continue to increase.
One hurdle that has proven to be difficult to overcome is that the Federal law requires that in order to obtain an Interstate Commercial Driver’s License, an individual must be 21 years old. What does this mean? It means there is a gap of three years from the age of high school graduation to the time where there is even a remote possibility to be employed as a truck driver. Meanwhile, most people will seek other career opportunities.
Another hurdle is that since the industry’s focal point is primarily on males; that leaves just below half of the workplace population that is not being sought after. With women making up 47% of the nation’s overall job force, but a mere 6% of employed truck drivers, it is apparent that the stereotyped “macho job” in the trucking industry is missing out on potential staffing opportunities.
With the help of the trucking industry this stereotype can be turned around and made appealing to both genders.
How the Trucker Lifestyle Affects the Driver Shortage
The lifestyle of a truck driver is not appealing to everyone, which is a large reason of why people are turned off. Getting used to the life of a truck driving career entails extended driving time on the routes, less time at home with family, showering at rest stops or other temporary accommodation, the challenge of nutritious meal options, and sleep deprivation.
During long routes, in order to meet deadlines, truck drivers will forego sleep and more importantly skip meals or choose fast food, which have been proven to have a negative impact on health. With an alarming percentage of truck drivers suffering from weight gain due to a sedentary lifestyle, resulting, oftentimes in developing diabetes, high blood pressure or digestive issues, the job is quite demanding.
Sleep deprivation is another issue truck drivers face. Again, in an effort to meet deadlines, the truck driver will press on, taking shortcuts anyway he or she can. Not only is sleep deprivation detrimental to the driver, but also creates brain fog, poor judgment due to fatigue and an increased risk for accidents.
What Does It Mean for the Occupation?
Coming up with a solution to the truck driver shortage is not easy. It involves several aspects, as previously mentioned. However, we do have a few proposals that may help resolve the issue.
Pay increases and more benefits are always appealing to employees, no matter the field of expertise. But the reality of the truck driver’s career is that out of pocket expenses increase in correlation with the rise of gas prices. Coupled with pay raises, more comprehensive benefits packages that include 401 (k) and reimbursement of tuition would be appealing.
Another solution would be improvements on the “lifestyle” aspects. With the growing alternatives of distribution centers and hubs, it is plausible to decrease road time and increase time at home for the truck driver. Keep the driver assigned to routes closer to home.
With the driving age laws currently dictating a minimum age of 21, that leaves a huge group of untapped potential with statistics showing that the highest rate of unemployment falls within the 18-20 year old bracket.
Yet another option would be to target women and veterans. Just to reiterate, with the female population in the truck driving profession being a very low 6%, it is probably worth looking at ways to make this career choice more enticing to women.
Sadly veterans are oftentimes overlooked, but the fact of the matter is, veterans are frequently seeking a fulfilling career.
How Does This Affect the Country and Individuals?
Trucking is the American economy’s driving force, but with the impending shortage of drivers it could put America’s future economic state in peril.
With the national average of the truck driver shortage hitting the 50,000 mark, we are in crisis mode. How does this affect America and its individuals? There is an undeniable link between the trucking industry and America’s economic status.
The trucking industry is the primary source of freight transportation and lack of drivers essentially impacts what consumers/American individuals’ find on the shelves and racks in any retail or grocery store. It is real.
Solutions to Correcting the Shortage
In addition to changing benefits and staff structure, how about considering redefining shipping methods: There are different shipping methods, which include: On the Road (OTR), full-truckload (FTL) and Less than truckload (LTL). The first two methods, OTR and FTL are experiencing the most impact on truck driver shortages. Why, because these two methods dictate the most amount of road time and the least amount of at-home time. In contrast, the LTL drivers, along with parcel drivers come home every night.
In summary, there is a current shortage of 50,000 and when you consider how this effects predicted freight requirements, by 2024 we could potentially have a shortage of 330,000 drivers. Carriers could help fix the issues by making the truck driver profession more appealing to a larger demographic population.
When Can We Expect the Shortage to End?
Let’s put this in perspective. With an average of 71% of all freight in America being transported via truck that converts to 10 billion tons annually. Consumerism increases as population grows. Consumer goods to entities such as Wal-Mart, Target or Kroger depend on truck deliveries to keep shelves full. Bottom line, the truck driver profession needs to become more enticing to a larger population.
At this time, carriers are finally enticing new professionals into the truck driving industry by offering sign-on bonuses, higher pay rates and supplemental income for training. However, the turnover rate has been slow to change with the working population still preferring other career choices such as construction because it means more time at home.
Bottom line, the urgency to acquire more truck drivers is well recognized and the industry is working diligently towards a solution.
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