Companies Paying Up for Truck Drivers, Reshaping Industry
As industries that rely on trucking services continue to grow thanks to a booming economy, so too will the gap that exists between the supply and demand for truck drivers. A robust economy and a strong dollar have fueled a higher demand for imported goods that must be transported via the $700 billion U.S. trucking industry.
To move the necessary nine billion tons of domestic freight annually, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimates that it takes more than three million truck drivers. But like many industries, the trucking industry is facing the mounting challenge of how to keep up with an increasing need for goods at a time when the delivery workforce is aging. This challenge hits the trucking industry even harder than most, and it’s one that’s helping reshape the industry.
Addressing the challenge
The age of the average truck driver has increased more rapidly than the age of the average worker due to fewer young workers entering the industry. Interstate laws require drivers to be 21 years old — thus eliminating younger candidates while retiring baby boomers are lost. To make matters worse, few women are choosing careers as truck drivers. In fact, only 6 percent of drivers are women at a time when many other industries are hiring females in record numbers. The shortage of truck drivers has grown to nearly 48,000 and could expand further through at least the year 2020 due to the combination of industry growth and the retiring workforce, according to the American Trucking Associations’ Truck Driver Shortage Analysis for 2015.
“The ability to find enough qualified drivers is one of our industry’s biggest challenges,” said ATA president and CEO Bill Graves.
Graves and the ATA believe that the trucking industry will need to hire an average of 89,000 drivers per year over the next decade to keep the nation’s freight moving. To combat the driver shortage, trucking companies are having to increase driver salaries. Average pay for long-haul truckers has jumped 17 percent since the end of 2013, up 12 percent over the past year alone to a record average of $57,000, according to the National Transportation Institute. The spike in pay comes as U.S. employment costs overall are up just 2 percent and average weekly earnings are rising only 2.2 percent.
Solutions to keep the industry moving
Economic analysts believe that driver pay will continue to rise as long as the driver shortage continues. To address the shortage along with the preconception that exists of a truck driver’s lifestyle being a difficult and unconventional one, the ATA has proposed the following solutions:
- Increase driver pay and offer sign-on bonuses
- Offer more at-home time
- Lower the interstate driving age
- Improve driver images of work hours and work conditions
- Cater to former military personnel
- Better the treatment of drivers by companies in the supply chain
- Employ autonomous commercial trucks
“Make no mistake, the driver shortage is a challenge, but it is not an insurmountable one,” concluded ATA chief economist Bob Costello.