Supply and Demand

Imagine going to your local grocery store, and seeing a wasteland of empty shelves where some of your favorite items once sat. Worst still, perhaps you reach for your go-to brand of “can’t live without it” snack, but just as you’re about to drop it in the basket, you notice the price has jumped…a lot. Sure, the example is extreme, but with the current shortage of qualified drivers in the U.S., the scene above could soon be coming to a store near you. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), around 70 percent of all freight is transported on America’s highways. From the raw ingredients delivered to your neighborhood restaurant to newly-assembled cars waiting to be dropped at dealerships, the trucking industry’s drivers are the connecting arteries of commerce upon which some of the nation’s most important economic engines rely. To put it simply, they’re kind of a big deal.

Although America’s driver shortage isn’t a new phenomenon, the problem has certainly intensified in recent years. At the end of 2017, the trucking industry needed a record 50,000 new drivers to keep up with demand. With demand predicted to continue outpacing supply, the shortage is only projected to get worse. A recent report by the APA stated the industry needs to hire nearly 90,000 drivers a year over the next decade to keep up.

Behind the Shortage

There are actually a few notable contributors to the current driver shortage. Here’s the rundown.

Demographics

Age demographics play a key role in the current state of affairs. As Baby Boomers continue to trade in their office hours for warm weather cruises and motorhome excursions, the trucking industry—which largely relies on an older driving workforce—has been one of the hardest hit. The problem? There aren’t enough qualified, younger drivers to replace the retirees. But the industry’s demographic woes don’t end there. Women, who will account for more than 47 percent of the U.S. labor force by 2024, only comprise 6 percent of the nation’s truck drivers.

Regulation

The deadline to comply with the ELD mandate was April 1, and with its passing, law enforcement officers began benching noncompliant vehicles. Between noncompliant, out-of-commission trucks and idle drivers who have hit their hours of service (HOS) limit, analysts estimate that the industry’s freight-hauling capacity will be reduced by up to 5 percent.

Technology

While the trucking industry as a whole may not despise technological advancement, frequent discussions about a future dominated by self-driving trucks doesn’t exactly leave current and potential drivers feeling warm and fuzzy about their prospects. After all, in the age of automation, it’s understandable when these skilled workers assume their jobs could go the way of manned toll booths, human assembly lines and the dodo bird. They can’t be blamed for planning ahead.

Shifting Gears

If you’re a trucking company grappling with the challenges of driver shortages, there are admittedly some things over which you have little control—like age restrictions on interstate drivers. However, here are a few suggestions that could help you retain good drivers and attract news ones.

Target Adjustment

In 1986, Whitney Houston sang the lyrics, “I believe the children are our future… ,” and when it comes to the trucking industry, she was right. Millennials, who are currently the largest generation in the workforce, are the future. Combine their potential with that of a historically untapped population of women, and the opportunity within this target market becomes enormous. Whether it’s modifying your recruiting strategies to reach Millennials through social media, or appealing to women by offering trucking positions that don’t require weeks away from home, unlocking this untapped market will likely require making a few course corrections.

Compensation

Driver compensation has been an ongoing topic of discussion for years. As the shortage continues and poaching by rival trucking companies intensifies, having a creative and competitive compensation plan is more important than ever. But one size doesn’t fit all. What works for one company may not work for yours, so communicate with your drivers, find out what’s important to them, and create compensation packages that are tailored to their needs.

Invest in the Future

Staying in or entering a profession where technological disruption is not only likely, but already visible, requires commitment. The commitment is even bigger for new drivers when you consider the financial barriers to entry they must overcome to obtain a specialized license. Although self-driving trucks are years away from mass production, new drivers—particularly new millennial drivers—will look for employers to demonstrate some commitment in return. One way to do this is by investing in on-the-job training that empowers your drivers with technological skills that will prove useful to them and your organization now and in the future.

Like all supply and demand trends, the current climate of driver shortages and high turnover rates won’t last forever. The market will eventually correct itself, but in the meantime, you can still win by applying innovative strategies and technology to an old industry.