The U.S. truck driver population is aging, and this is perhaps the biggest threat that the sector is facing today. With the industry already experiencing a severe driver shortage, there are not enough young drivers entering the industry to fill the empty seats needed for the upcoming retirement of drivers.
Over the last 20 years, the average age of the trucking industry shifted from a younger to an older workforce. Compared to other segments of the U.S. economy, the trucking industry has a far higher percentage of workers in the 45-54 and the 55-64 age groups.
With a combination of retirements and people exiting the industry, the trucking industry will need to hire a total of 890,000 new drivers over the next decade to simply keep pace with projected nationwide freight needs. Replacing retiring truck drivers will be by far the largest factor, accounting for nearly half of new driver hires (45%).
Because the trucking industry is experiencing such an unprecedented labor shortage, some companies are already choosing to hire drivers who are beyond retirement age. Retirees age 65 and older make up 10% of the commercial truck driver population in the U.S., which is an increase over the last two decades. As long as drivers can pass a mandatory physical to obtain their Commercial Driver’s License, they can be hired. Some trucking schools are actively recruiting senior drivers, who may be looking for additional income and benefits in their retirement.
Identifying Possible Solutions
This solution has brought on another problem, however: Commercial truck accidents involving drivers in their 70s, 80s, and even in their 90s increased by 19% between 2013 and 2015. Driving any motor vehicle is a complicated task, and according to the National Institute of Health the ability to drive safely generally decreases with age.
The most significant driver shortage over all is for over-the-road (or long haul) drivers who spend weeks at a time away from home, sleeping in their trucks, showering and eating in truck stops, and the pressures of getting cargo unloaded in a timely fashion.
So what can the industry do about the truck driver shortage problem with more drivers moving towards retirement age? Unfortunately, there is no one simple answer. Various industry experts have provided some of the following possible policy solutions to address the driver shortage.
Compensation is a “critical factor” regarding solving the driver shortage, both now and in the future, according to industry transportation and logistics research group experts. The contention is that the driver pay right now for the industry, as compared to other industries, has been stagnant because of the lower rates trucking companies can charge.
Kickstarting Ideas for Change
Other industry experts believe carriers must deploy tactics beyond pay increases to find and keep drivers for the long-term. Suggestions to address the realities that truck drivers deal with every day include:
- Loan assistance: Help new drivers pay off loans incurred for driver training courses.
- Better equipment: Trucks are the driver’s home-away-from-home and drivers are happier in well-maintained, comfortable vehicles.
- Focus on driver health and wellness: This is an industry-must – not in the least because poor health is reducing the lifespan of the average trucker to 61 years – 15 years below the national average – according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Financial incentives should also be considered for drivers who meet all health goals.
- Create clear “career paths:” Though career incentives may eventually remove some drivers from behind the wheel, clear pathways to become supervisors, dispatchers, trainers or recruiters will offer options to experienced drivers who want to stay in the trucking industry.
- Recruit more women: Just 5.8 % of truck drivers are women.
There are also tactics that the industry as a whole might use to deal with the driver shortage, such as:
- Lower the driving age: Interstate drivers must currently be at least 21 years of age. The 18-20 year old segment — an entire age category that the industry cannot access — has the highest rate of unemployment of any age group. (Note: Some argue that insurance rates for 18 to 25 year old drivers could be so high that only carriers that self-insure would be able to afford to hire them.)
- More at-home time: Potential drivers often hesitate to take a job that requires so much time away from home, especially those who are just starting out in the industry.
- Recruit veterans: Continue efforts to ease the driver shortage by facilitating the transition of military veterans into careers in the trucking industry.
- Recruit more spousal teams: Many couples may find careers in the trucking industry highly appealing.
- Expand truck-driving schools: More training programs and schools would help attract more drivers.
- Reduce driving hassles: Providing greater access to parking and showers, and minimizing driver wait time and load-unload time will help keep drivers in the industry.
- Packaging innovation: More efficient packaging will allow more cargo to be transported on fewer trailers.
- Cross-shipper collaboration: More efficiency would eliminate waste by combining heavy and light products on a single trailer and could eliminate payload from multiple shippers to smaller-volume receivers. Increasing equipment utilization not only helps increase supply but also reduces demand by getting more freight delivered by fewer trucks.
- Address scheduling surges: Smoothing out wasteful day-of-week, end-of-month and end-of-quarter freight surges would mean fewer trucks could move the same amount of cargo.
To address the daunting driver shortage number, the American trucking industry has already taken steps to fill vacancies left by our aging workforce. The advent of advanced human resources capabilities, job advertising and sleek mobile apply solutions is making it easier to recruit better drivers.
As many top ranking trucking companies are already on the forefront of implementing new driver and employee programs to attract new talent, more measures are needed. However, the strength of the U.S. economy is directly linked to a strong trucking industry: This driver shortage issue must be tackled, head-on.
Looking for some tips and best practices on driver recruitment to combat this issue? Check out our best practices guide for more information.