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November 30, 2017 3:15 PM, EST
Editorial: Help Wanted

Recruiting good commercial drivers can often feel like an uphill battle for many trucking companies, and the hill could get even steeper in the year ahead.

The industry’s continued shortage of qualified drivers, combined with a growing economy and tightening freight capacity, could push fleets to accelerate driver pay increases in 2018, analysts projected.

Some for-hire truckload carriers also are offering other incentives to attract and retain drivers, such as lucrative sign-on bonuses and guaranteed pay for detention time at shippers’ and receivers’ facilities.

While those strategies could help individual trucking companies get a leg up on their competitors in a challenging labor market, the industry as a whole must find ways to fix the broader problem: There simply aren’t enough workers entering the trucking industry.

Many of today’s drivers are nearing retirement age, and not enough newcomers are stepping in to fill those jobs.

American Trucking Associations has projected that the for-hire sector could face a shortage of 50,000 drivers by year’s end, and that shortfall could balloon to more than 174,000 by 2026 if current trends continue.

At the same time, fleets, dealers and service providers are struggling to recruit enough repair technicians to maintain the trucks that haul the nation’s freight.

To address these challenges, ATA has established a workforce development subcommittee to identify ways to combat the driver and technician shortages.

For a problem this pervasive, the industry will need to consider a broad array of solutions.

Some of the many ideas that have been suggested include apprenticeship programs, finding ways to employ workers under the age of 21 before they pursue other careers, and expanding efforts to bring more women, minorities and immigrants into the industry.

The transportation industry also must present itself to young people as an attractive career path, in part by highlighting the increasingly high-tech nature of modern trucks.

When more people decide to join the industry, all trucking companies stand to benefit.

But until that happens, recruiting and retention will continue to be a steep climb.