The trucking industry has always been essential in the US economy to keep the flow of goods going. Roughly 70% of freight in the country is delivered by trucks, including most essential goods like food, water, and vaccines. However, for years the industry has been dealing with a shortage of drivers, currently about 80,000 short according to the American Trucking Association (ATA). Less willingness to spend time on the road away from their families, an aging workforce, and more recently, the boom of e-commerce, the pandemic, and supply chain issues have all been factors in long-haul driver attrition.
Recruiting new drivers and keeping them has been a challenge, as new generations are wanting different things from their employers. Of increasing importance are diversity, more work-life balance, and proper compensation to keep up with the upward cost of living, and many are starting their own ventures. In trucking, while some jobs are well paid and offer benefits, the median pay for a big rig truck driver last year was less than $50,000, with many working 60-70 hours a week without healthcare benefits and paying their own cost of fuel, insurance, maintenance and leasing.
Some trucking companies are turning to the power of social media to appeal to younger generations, offering sizeable sign-on bonuses and full benefits. The long-haul sector has been the most challenging to staff, with drivers spending more time away from home and usually only being paid for driving time. Turnover is high in this area (upwards of 90%, according to some estimates), partly due to the intense competition for labor, with many drivers changing companies frequently to take advantage of sign-on bonuses.
E-commerce has also shifted the dynamic of the trucking world with the increasing demand of home deliveries. Many experienced drivers are shifting to these companies for the higher pay and more time at home. Experts say competition to recruit and retain skilled drivers has allowed truckers to earn more in recent years, even more so during the pandemic, when supply chain issues drove increased demand for drivers.
So, what does the future of trucking look like? We are seeing improvements in companies to encourage underrepresented populations to join the driver workforce. Organizations like Women in Trucking help encourage and empower women in the transportation industry. The federal government is working on lowering the age for truckers driving across state lines from 21 to 18 to appeal to a younger demographic and get young adults started in trucking immediately after high school. The Biden-Harris Trucking Action plan, unveiled in December 2021, is aiming to work with industry partners on recruiting and apprenticeship programs.
These measures are welcome and more still must be done, as the driver shortage is forecasted to continue rising. Other solutions, such as self-driving trucks, are still a ways out from large-scale implementation. No matter which way you look at it, the economy depends on the continued movement of goods and we need drivers to keep truckin’!
At Interra, we always find a way to navigate the supply chain obstacles and find a solution to keep your business running. For more information, contact us today!