February 22, 2018 8:00 PM, EST

Trucking Industry Needs More Women, Younger Workers, Says Past ATA Chairman Kevin Burch

Kevin BurchKevin Burch by John Sommers II for Transport Topics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The trucking industry will need 100,000 new drivers per year for the next 10 years to address the industrywide driver shortage, according to Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express Inc., and immediate past chairman of American Trucking Associations.

ATA last year reported the shortage at more than 50,000 drivers. However, as the shortage wages on, the freight industry booms. ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello pointed out that gross domestic product is projected to grow 2.7% this year. Both Costello and Burch spoke at the 2018 Recruitment & Retention Conference Feb. 22, which was co-hosted by Conversion Interactive Agency, American Trucking Associations and Transport Topics.

“You know darn well we’re going to need more trucks,” Burch said.

The American Transportation Research Institute publishes separate studies on driver issues and motor carrier issues. Their most recent analysis revealed that the driver shortage topped both of those lists as the most pressing issue. The recently-effective electronic logging device mandate ranked second on both lists.

Burch identified women and young people as demographics that could offset the driver shortage. He said that five or six years ago, women made up 3% of truck drivers. Today, they make up about 6%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, truck drivers are 94% male, yet the entire U.S. workforce across all sectors is 47% male.

Of the 7.3 million people in the trucking industry, some 3.5 million are drivers, which Burch said leaves plenty of room for dispatchers, insurance officers and computer experts.

In addition to facing a dearth of drivers, the trucking industry is also characterized by an aging workforce. Burch said the median age of all U.S. workers is about 42 years, while the average age of private carrier workers is 52. Because members of the trucking industry tend to be older, recruiting young talent is vital, Burch said.

“We’re old,” Burch said. “We’re an aging workforce.”

In addition to struggling to attract drivers, many fleets encounter difficulty keeping them. The truckload fleet driver turnover rate in 2016 was 81%; Costello said it will probably be about 90% this year.

Burch recommended establishing a graduated program to ease 18- to 21-year-olds into the industry. Federal law does not permit 18- to 21-year-olds to drive Class 8 trucks across state lines, a regulation that ATA President Chris Spear called “one of the dumbest federal policies I have ever come across.”

Burch echoed this sentiment, pointing out that a young person can drive 400 miles within Ohio, but cannot drive 35 miles from Ohio into Indiana.

Some 48 states allow people in this demographic, which includes students who have just graduated from high school, to drive Class 8 trucks within state lines. Burch said he has 18- and 19-year-olds working as drivers for Jet Express, which is based in Dayton, Ohio.

“Their attendance was good. They’re good people,” Burch said. “That’s got to be a source.”

Connecting with employees is an important part of keeping them, Burch said. For example, he hosted a lunch for his female drivers, of which there were 11 at the time. The meeting sparked conversations in which the women learned they visited the same doctors or dentists and shared similar concerns for certain types of loads.

On another occasion, Burch had a 24 year-old prospective driver visit Jet Express’ headquarters. The young man brought his wife and 2-year-old daughter on the visit, and he now drives for Jet Express.

“That was low-cost, high-value. Be involved. Be active in what you’re doing,” Burch said. “When you say you’ve got job opportunities, they will turn and look.”