Truckers in Short Supply - What's the Problem?

John M. Dabbs

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Steve Sill, pusher truck driverOregon Department of Transportation/Flickr

We're in a truck driver drought. The lifestyle of the truck driver isn't as glamorous these days. Gone are the TV shows like Movin' On and BJ and the Bear, and movies like Convoy. Many modern-day truckers have left the workforce because of the stressors imposed by the COVID pandemic. Truckstops were shut down, and they couldn't shower or grab a hot meal easily. Some drivers weren't even able to park and grab a meal by walking-through a drive-thru, because some restaurants don't allow it for safety reasons.

Trucker shortage

Over the last decade, the industry has struggled to find new drivers. The driver shortage impacts our whole economy. Nearly 70% of all freight is moved on US highways by truck. Supplier costs are effected by the increases necessary for driver pay increases. These also effect consumer prices. The shortages are still there, while increased salaries have kept some people driving. Shipping delays and supply shortages are becoming normal in the current climate.

Requirements

Federal regulations require drivers be 21 years old to hold an Interstate Commercial Drivers License (CDL). Many younger would-be drivers are distracted after graduating high school and find other employment.

Technically, no formal education is required to become a truck driver. You don't need a college degree, but a high school diploma or GED are recommended. It's helpful to obtain a certificate of completion from an accredited truck driving school. This can be helpful during the hiring process, but isn't a strict requirement for many employers. In some states, a CDL can only be issued after completing truck driving and safety competency courses. A few jobs require certain certifications like "doubles" or a HAZMAT endorsement. Many companies have their own training programs you'll have to complete to work for them.

Considerations

You’ll often be entrusted with large amounts of valuable cargo. This means you should expect to have to pass a drug screen and background check for criminal and motor vehicle offenses. You'll also be required to pass a DOT physical on a regular basis.

Physical requirements

The general public isn't are that this is a physically tasking job. You will need to be physically healthy. You'll need to have good eyesight (corrected), hearing, and be able to endure long periods of sitting while you drive to become a truck driver. Some employers will require you to load and unload your own truck. This will necessitate you being able to lift at least 50 pounds without help.

The trucker lifestyle

A career as a truck driver requires a lot of travel, and being away from your home and family for days or even weeks at a time. If you're considering a career and talking to a recruiter, make sure to ask for specifics if they are a regional trucking company. Some of the regional companies require drivers to be on the road for most of a month, away from home multiple nights. Should you have a new family, you might want to research positions to find one for local pickup and delivery drivers.

The lifestyle is one of the biggest reasons regional and over-the-road truckers are older. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of a commercial truck driver is 55. Many of these will be retiring in the next decade or two, putting the economy on edge. This is especially truce because the youngers workers aren't being hired into the trucking industry.

With men making up nearly 95% of the truck driver workforce, it doesn't help. Women make up almost half of the national workforce, but are only 6% of the driving workforce. The image of truck-driving isn't that glamorous and often requires strength. Though many capable women can do the job, most choose not to go this route. The generations entering today's workforce are more in tune with enjoying their lives today than saving for retirement. Many aren't focused on the nuclear family and supporting this lifestyle, but want to have the freedom to work and enjoy their life on their own terms. It's a struggle the nation's employers are all working through.

Many people are becoming more aware or healthy eating and joining the masses for healthy lifestyle and eating habits. Eating a more healthy diet and getting proper exercise is a real challenge for people working and leading a life on the road. You won't find as many healthy meal or snack options at a travel center or truck stop, or truck stops with a fitness center. You're often lucky to find one with shower facilities.

It's not all food and exercise either. Sleep deprivation is also a major concern. Pressures to deliver their cargo on time often pushes drivers to skip meals and sleep breaks. This impairs their physical and mental condition, and can lead to poor judgement and accidents.

Solutions

The complexities in the truck driving industry make it unlikely to have a single solution. There are some items which can help, from responses to industry representatives. With the modern workforce wanting more from life than the previous generation demanded, we can see where they are coming from:

  1. Increase Pay - entice people to enter the workfoce with good pay and benefits (retirement, insurance, and tuition reimbursement)
  2. Lower the age limit to increase the available work pool (18-20 year olds are the largest unemployed group)
  3. Equalize the workforce (minorities, women, veterans). Targeting these groups and training them can be a huge untapped market.
  4. Use more Less Than Truckload Shipping, where workers can be home most every night.

ATA says we need another 80,000 truck drivers. We are forecasted to have a shortage of 330,000 by 2024 if we don't act now. Trucking companies must think more stragegically to get into the untapped workforce pool. Comprehensive benefits and competitive salaries can build a new generation of truck drivers.

Government

The Biden Administration is launching a Trucking Action Plan to strengthen our trucking workforce. The plan is supposed to offer resources to help states expedite and expand the CDL process, and encourage employers to develop apprenticeship programs.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Johnson City, TN
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