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Trucking is likely to continue to see a shortage of professional drivers with the underlying causes showing no signs of stopping in 2022.
American Trucking Associations estimates that the industry needs 80,000 more drivers. That could be the same or worse next year with those estimates expected to surpass 160,000 by 2030. High demand, a lack of new drivers and retirements play into the issue.
“I wish I had a crystal ball to be able to see the future,” Daniel Most, vice president of operations and safety at CPC Logistics, told Transport Topics. “I think there’s still going to be a shortage that’s significant because of the supply and demand. There is still going to be a lot of freight to move next year and the same or fewer drivers.”
The industry has been pursuing a range of solutions. The primary method carriers have used to attract drivers is raising pay. ATA estimates earnings are increasing at a rate five times their historical average, with the average weekly earnings for longhaul drivers being up more than 25% since the beginning of 2019. But those efforts mostly have amounted to carriers competing over the same limited pool of drivers with the lack of new entries.
“I think as long as the freight market continues to do what it’s been doing and from everything that I’ve been hearing from the folks that we work with, I don’t expect that to change, at least through the first two quarters and possibly the first three quarters,” said Scott Dismuke, director of operations at Professional Driver Agency. “I think it’s just going to be more of the same at this point. Unless we can start getting more drivers, newer drivers, attracted to the market, we’re still going to be up against the wall.”
Dismuke noted that when it comes to retention it’s important for carriers to be aware of what issues drivers are facing. That means communicating consistently with their drivers and having the ability to quickly identify and intervene when problems arise.
“When it comes to the drivers that are in the market right now and new drivers entering the market, I think we’re in for more of the same,” Dismuke said. “Carriers knowing what their drivers are saying right now is probably more important than it’s ever been. Because you have to have the ability to identify and intervene in order to retain drivers right now.”
Dismuke noted that the situation next year will depend on how current market conditions evolve. Freight demand remaining high, for instance, will mean there will continue to be a heightened demand for drivers. He also pointed to the semiconductor chip shortage slowing the supply of new equipment and the coronavirus pandemic as playing a role.
“I think once you kind of get this whole chip thing figured out, a lot of the chips come from Malaysia, I think you could possibly see a pickup in the auto-hauling side of things,” Dismuke said. “Then depending on what happens with the president’s restructure bill, you could see an increase in a lot of the construction area, which would be good for flatbed. I think there are still a couple of issues that we need to wait and see what happens that could actually increase what is already a very heavy freight market.”
The Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, a federal program that takes professional drivers off the road for failing a drug or alcohol test, reported in August that it has logged 93,808 violations since January 2020.
“Only 20,000 of them have done what they needed to do to get their license reinstated,” CPC Logistics’ Most said. “There’s 80,000 right there, and we’ll be on pace to lose another 50,000 to 60,000 potentially next year. And then there are all the retirements.
“With the aging driver force, can we get the younger population interested in this type of job? Obviously, the industry is doing a lot of things to try and make it more appealing to younger individuals.”
Most noted that flexibility in the type of work carriers are offering could help attract new drivers. He noted maybe somebody with a young family might be more interested if they can be home more often. He believes that without that, the industry probably will be in a similar position.
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