The Lonesome Road: Why There’s a Driver Shortage

Justin Christensen |

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Every year, the American Transportation Research Institute publishes a top-ten list of concerns executives face in the trucking industry. Currently, driver shortage ranks third, while driver retention ranks seventh.

As fleet owners, focusing your energies in the right direction saves both time and money. Since these two issues go hand-in-hand, it stands to reason that understanding the causes behind one could help provide solutions to the other.

Causes of Driver Shortage

  • Aging Workforce – The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports 55 as the median age of a commercial driver in the US. The National Transportation Institute estimates 14 percent are between the ages of 55 and 65 and at the onset of retirement. There aren’t enough young drivers applying to fill those positions.
  • Competition – Construction and oil and gas are the trucking industry’s biggest competitors, scooping up many potential younger drivers with more attractive wages.
  • Wages – The average salary in 2013 was $40,940 or $19.68 an hour according to BLS – only $1.50 more than 2009. Industry, experience, location, and employee or operator/owner status all influence pay rates.
  • Work / Life Balance – When you’re a long-haul driver, the time spent alone on the road away from family and friends is significant. Some get home just on weekends and others are away for weeks or months. It’s a big sacrifice with little incentive given the average income.
  • Regulations – Changes to Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) Hours of Services rules are making the challenge of finding qualified drivers more difficult. And with reduced driving time, more trucks/drivers will be needed to do the same work: greater shortage, less productivity, higher cost.
  • Industry Growth – There are already around 25,000 vacant truck driver positions across the country and that is only expected to rise. As the economy continues to rebound and exports increase, the BLS projected an 11% jump from 2012 to 2022 or another 192,600 jobs.
  • Turnover Rates – The American Trucking Association reported 92% and 78% turnover rates for large and small truckload carriers for the first quarter of 2014. Some drivers will change carriers every few weeks or months, but many are in for the long haul.

Armed with information, here’s the challenging part: implementing change. While some of these areas are out of your control, you will need to look at your own situation and decide your company’s priorities. What can you feasibly do differently?

Ways to Be A Competitive Employer

If you’re looking for ideas to help get you started, consider the Towers Watson Global Workforce Study and Why Drivers Stay With Fleets survey. Some of their findings as to why employees choose to stay with an employer may be just what you need for that competitive edge.

  • Job Security – Quality work, consistent schedules and steady mileage
  • Opportunity for Advancement – Job support, career development, long term goals
  • Driver Appreciation – Recognition helps improve morale and reduce costs
  • Commitment to Safety – Drivers value incentive programs
  • Values – Trust, honesty and confidence in management
  • Employee Relations – Excellent dispatchers and driver managers
  • Communication – Use any technology and venues necessary to support a driver’s lifestyle and keep group / personal connections going.

Another way to be a competitive employer is to work with a competent fuel distributor. As a fleet owner too, we offer numerous professional services that will provide solutions and add value to your business. It’s first-hand knowledge you can trust.