Could you see yourself behind the wheel of a big rig? The trucking lifestyle is not for everyone, but the current shortage of drivers makes truck driving a relatively lucrative field to go into right now.
A new report by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) shows that the shortage of American truck drivers will reach 48,000 by the end of 2015. That is up from a shortfall of 38,000 in 2014, 30,000 in 2013 and 20,000 in 2005. If that curve were extrapolated to 2024, the shortage would grow to nearly 175,000. Such a lack of truck drivers could have a huge impact on the cost of goods and ultimately be a drag on the economy.
Compensation for truck drivers has been rising around 8-12% annually in recent years. According to the ATA, the median annual salary for a truck driver in a private fleet is $73,000. With that type of salary, why is there a shortage of truck drivers at all, much less a growing one?
The problem is not so much a lack of applicants as it is a lack of qualified applicants. Bob Costello, Chief Economist for the ATA, said that according to their research, "88% of carriers said [that] most applicants are not qualified." The qualifications are the same as they have been for years — you must be at least 21 years of age, have a commercial trucking license, and pass a drug test and background check.
The trucking industry also suffers from an image problem with respect to attracting drivers. In general, younger drivers simply do not find the trucking life attractive. Long hours on the road and stretches of several days away from home have limited appeal to a generation that is more interested in a work-life balance than it is in salaries alone. Costello agrees that an image makeover and schedules that allow drivers to be home more often will be key to attracting new drivers — along with the increased pay.
To deal with the current shortfall and anticipated retirements, ATA expects that the trucking industry will need to hire an average of 89,000 drivers per year over the next ten years. The median age of truck drivers is 49, almost seven years more than the median age of all American workers, and as a result, approximately 45% of the upcoming demand is slotted as replacements for retiring drivers. Industry growth is expected to account for another one-third of the hiring needs.
The situation may actually turn out to be worse, because the ATA's analysis does not take into account the impact of federal regulations such as electronic logging. Transportation regulations do not often make a truck driver's life easier.
It would help alleviate the crisis if the industry were able to appeal more to women. The trucking culture is still very male-oriented. Only 6% of all truck drivers are female, yet approximately 47% of all U.S. workers are female. It is even harder to fill job positions when half of the population is disinclined to consider your industry.
It is possible that drivers' wages will rise high enough that more qualified people will finally be tempted to consider a career in truck driving, but the industry will be far more likely to fill its positions if drivers' schedules and conditions can adjust to meet the needs of the younger generation and still get the goods delivered on time. We hope the ATA succeeds, because none of us want to see poorly qualified drivers on the road or pay more for delivered goods.