The truck driver shortage presents an ongoing challenge for the logistics industry. However, many people understandably wonder why it’s still a problem.
One often-cited challenge is that there are not enough new drivers entering the workforce as veterans retire. A recent study confirmed that there were more than 14 million truck driver job postings between 2019 and 2020. That tremendous amount details the extent of the issue and suggests it will take time to address.
The research also concluded that nearly 57 percent of all truck drivers are older than 45. Then, almost a quarter (23 percent) are in the 55+ age bracket.
A paragraph in the study explained, “The workforce composition suggests that young workers are not being recruited at rates that will replace current workers as they exit the market due to age or disability. This issue is further compounded by a relative dearth of younger workers overall compared to the abundance of baby boomers.”
Finding Women to Fill the Driver Shortage
Some trucking companies have dealt with the issue by ramping up their efforts to recruit women, a historically underrepresented group in the sector. One excellent way to do that is to focus on safety.
Ellen Voie, the CEO of the Women in Trucking Association, says that the females who speak to her about the industry often cite safety as their top priority. However, maintaining safe working conditions and environments benefits everyone.
She clarified that safety doesn’t only mean addressing one aspect: “That [safety] includes the maintenance of the equipment, the perception of when a driver should or should not drive in inclement weather or in areas of civil unrest, and how safe the loading dock is for drivers. Is it well lit, secure or in a dangerous neighborhood? Those are all aspects of a carrier’s safety culture.”
Canada’s Skelton Truck Lines found that recruiting women became easier when more females filled leadership roles in the company. It currently has nine female department managers. It’s notable that more than 30 percent of its drivers are women. The company also offers team freight so that women could do runs with their spouses.
Efforts to recruit more women in the industry won’t account for all the aging workforce issues. However, they help, while making trucking a more gender-balanced industry.
Industry Turnover Rates Exacerbate the Driver Shortage
Some people who get trained and licensed as truckers ultimately discover that they don’t want to make long-term careers out of the endeavor. However, some recent changes in the industry aim to provide more flexibility, which could reduce turnover rates.
More specifically, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published new rules that went into effect at the end of September 2020.
One of them is that drivers must take 30-minute breaks after driving for at least eight hours. There is no requirement that they are consecutive hours, and drivers can count periods when they are on-duty but not driving while calculating the eight hours. There is also an updated definition of what constitutes adverse driving conditions.
Pay Tops the List of What Keeps Drivers Committed
A 2021 study about truck driver retention showed some gender-based differences in what makes a person stick with the career and particular companies. However, the top concern for both men and women was that the company provided them with enough pay or settlement.
Having a work/life balance was also more important for women, the study showed, as females ranked it as their third priority, and men chose it as their seventh.
Carriers Mention Retention as a Pressing Concern
Another survey, this one published in October 2020, showed that trucking carriers brought up retention as their second most urgent problem. However, of the more than 1,000 drivers who responded, compensation was one of their primary concerns.
Paying drivers more could be a vital step in making them feel that companies value them and their service. Moreover, it is ideal if compensation goes up according to a person’s experience level and reliability. Then, truckers should be more willing to stay in the career rather than looking for opportunities they perceive as more attractive.
Another study indicated that 50 percent of drivers polled saw their current wages as uncompetitive. On top of that, many found that companies did not offer career paths for them. Data from that research also found that half of respondents did not feel safe on the road. If drivers struggle with feeling unsafe and realizing that they could earn more in other jobs, many will see what other possibilities exist.
Obstacles Persist in Getting New Drivers Road-Ready
Getting more people interested in entering the trucking sector doesn’t solve the driver shortage. Industry leaders expect that COVID-19 restrictions could cause persistent backlogs that prevent new drivers from getting on the roads as efficiently as they otherwise might.
For example, many Department of Motor Vehicles facilities delayed certain services during COVID-19 lockdowns and enforced social distancing rules that limited the number of people a location could serve in a given day. That affects all people who drive vehicles, including those who need to get their commercial licenses to operate trucks for the first time.
Relatedly, some driver training centers had to close or hold smaller classes to abide by the applicable COVID-19 restrictions. Some people who were eager to get the necessary education may have found that they had to wait longer than anticipated to meet that goal.
Drug Testing Crackdowns May Make Potential Drivers Wary
Another recent development related to the truck driver shortage is that the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse took effect in 2020. It has already kept thousands of drivers from staying on the roads.
New rules require all trucking companies to register in a database and conduct yearly queries on each driver. During 2020, the Clearinghouse system caught more than 56,000 violations, although just over 1,200 were alcohol-related. Marijuana was by far the most common drug found among drivers’ substance usage. Some people familiar with the matter attribute that statistic to the growing number of states that have legalized it.
When speaking about the 2021 driver shortage outlook, analyst Avery Vise noted that the Clearinghouse has “culled another 40,000 or so drivers directly from the market, and probably thousands more have exited because they think they might not pass a drug test.”
Other parties who specialize in driver recruiting noticed a decrease in new applicants. The tighter regulations for drug testing were not likely the sole reason for that trend. However, it could prove an important factor. For example, a person who uses legal drugs recreationally during their off-time might worry about getting called for a surprise drug test and not passing it because of their recent usage.
That’s one example of how stricter regulations could worsen the driver shortage. If a trucker tests positive for marijuana, that does not necessarily mean they were smoking it while on duty. A person who keeps their legal drug use out of their work may ultimately decide that trucking is not an ideal industry after all due to the drug testing aspect. If they worry about their downtime choices affecting their careers, people may investigate other work opportunities.
A Multifaceted Issue That Needs Strategic Solutions
This overview emphasizes that the industry could not target only one area to end the truck driver shortage. It’s an ongoing challenge that COVID-19 and other recent events negatively affected.
However, one excellent starting point is for trucking company representatives to research the top things that their current drivers like and dislike about their jobs. That way, it’s easier to determine what to address first. If most people say that they enjoy their schedules but don’t get paid enough for what they do, that’s valuable information that could shape positive changes.
Emily Newton is an industrial journalist. As Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, she regularly covers how technology is changing the industry. Learn more at revolutionized.com.