With a somewhat rebounding economy, the demand for goods is steadily increasing and a number of industries are experiencing new growth. As major cities also continue to grow—particularly in the South and the West—the need for products and infrastructure is growing as well. So, if you think the roadways seem more jammed than ever with tractor-trailers hauling freight, you are absolutely correct—they are.
But here’s the twist—there could be and should be even more trucks moving freight over U.S. roadways. And the plain and simple answer as to why they’re not is this…there’s more freight to be moved than there are drivers to move it.
In fact, according to the American Trucking Association, as of May 2015, there was a 35,000 to 40,000 shortage of truck drivers nationwide, with trucking companies reporting numerous idle trucks and freight ready to go, but insufficient driver capacity to meet delivery demands.
Graying Workforce Is a Growing Concern
In a recent white paper from the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), analyzing age demographics of truck drivers, the findings showed that there were not enough younger drivers to fill the seats of retiring drivers and that age demographics have shifted dramatically over the last 20 years from a younger to an older workforce. Specifically:
- 49% of the trucking workforce is between 45 and 64 years of age compared to only 29% in 1994
- 35-44 year old workers employed in the trucking industry have fallen from 1.35% in 1994 to 0.64%
- Over 78% of drivers are 35 years of age or older
With the aging truck driver population, coupled with high turnover rates, industry experts predict that to keep up with the growing freight demand, 240,000 new drivers will need to be added by 2023. Not meeting that number could mean supply chain disruptions that affect reliable freight transportation, resulting in repercussions on both commerce and the economy.
Since the workforce is not getting any younger, with a majority headed toward retirement, meeting this demand will be anything but easy, but there are solutions that trucking companies have leveraged to help attract new talent and keep more seasoned drivers on board longer.
So let’s take a look at a few of those….
- Pay Increases and Benefits
Offering drivers a substantial increase in pay is always a solution and a strong incentive, but one that may not be enough. To that end, some carriers are sweetening the deal with better benefits packages, more bonuses, improved working conditions and holding worker appreciation events to boost driver morale and show appreciation for a job well done.
- Improved Medical and Healthcare
No doubt, trucking is physically demanding—so demanding that the life expectancy of a trucker is less than that of the “average Joe.” With an aging workforce, regulatory agencies are always keeping a watchful eye on driver heath, which forces carriers to provide drivers with better medical and healthcare options.
- Less Workload, More Flexibility
To lessen the physical demands of the job and to allow drivers to spend more time off the road and more time at home, many carriers are giving drivers a standard route with set hours. Also popular is load swapping, where companies relocate distribution centers or add more trailer yards, which shortens route distances and allows drivers to drop off a load, pick up a new load, and call it a day.
- Deepening the Driver Pool
To attract more drivers, some carriers are rebranding to make the job more appealing to diverse groups, including women, minorities, veterans and immigrants. In other words, giving the image long associated with the trucking industry—older, white males—an “it’s about time” makeover.
For example, to appeal specifically to women, some carriers have incorporated trucks with ergonomic features such as adjusted height and placement of cab grab handles, adjustable seatbelt shoulder straps and improved placement of dash cluster gauges. And to reach out to minorities, marketing campaigns targeted to specific groups are often leveraged.
There is another solution that may be many years away, but one that is slowly and surely picking up steam-automated trucks. In the meantime, the trucking industry needs to keep plugging away with workable solutions that make truck driving a lucrative, rewarding and desirable career.