The Truck Driver Shortage: What’s Happening?
Trucking is an important part of the American supply chain, but the nation faces a truck driver shortage that’s been building for the past decade. And the shortage is only going to get worse. Right now, the American trucking industry is short about 68,000 drivers to meet supply needs. By 2030, trucking companies will need to hire 1 million drivers to meet the demand and counteract the retiring drivers. How did this shortage happen, and what can be done about it?
What Is the Truck Driver Shortage?
To start, it’s important to understand what a truck driver shortage is. A shortage of truck drivers means that there aren’t enough qualified drivers actively working in the industry to transport goods. While there are still qualified drivers or potentially qualified drivers around, not enough of these people are currently working in trucking, which then creates a shortage.
What Creates the Shortage?
There are a number of reasons why this driver shortage began and is continuing to get worse each year. Here are some of most prominent reasons:
To become a qualified driver, you need to hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL). To hold a CDL, you need to be at least 21 years old in order to drive across state lines. You can get a CDL at 18 if only to drive in-state, but this restriction puts limits on who trucking companies are able to hire.
Potentially excited recruits fresh out of high school can’t get into trucking for three years, and by then, many have found other career opportunities. Vocational programs and high school programs that train seniors to drive trucks are then unable to send their graduates right to work. While some are pushing to change age restrictions, these laws haven’t changed yet, and they’re contributing to the truck driver shortage.
When most people think of truck drivers, they think of middle-age men. There is some truth to that stereotype. The average age of the American truck driver is 55 years old. The challenge this demographic poses for the trucking industry is that most of these drivers will be retiring in the next 10–20 years. When these drivers retire, the trucking industry will have a massive gap of drivers and nobody to fill it.
Since the beginning of 2020, trucking companies have been required to do randomized and yearly drug tests for employees. When a driver fails the test, they’re no longer able to hold their CDL and subsequently lose their jobs. Most companies have a return-to-work process in place, but not every driver goes through the process, instead looking for employment elsewhere. This drug testing process has made about 47,000 drivers ineligible in the last year, and with no drivers to replace them, this only adds to the shortage.
Lower Female Population of Drivers
Again, when most people think of a truck driver, they think of a man, and there’s some truth to that stereotype as well. Right now, about 7.8% of the trucking workforce are women, even though women make up 47% of the country’s workforce. One obstacle here is the stereotype that truck driving is for “tough guys,” which needs to change to draw more women to the industry. In the future, trucking companies will want to not only show that women are needed but that they are wanted.
The truck driver shortage began much earlier than right now, but it’s certainly been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on trucking. In fact, the pandemic led to a 12% drop in turnover in drivers. While many restrictions are lifting and opening new opportunities, the trucking industry is still struggling to come back from the high loss from the pandemic, like many other industries. Retaining workers during the pandemic has also been difficult for most companies, trucking included.
Many of the previous reasons affect driver recruitment, but one major issue trucking faces is retention. One of the biggest factors in retaining drivers is the low pay typical of the industry. Many trucking companies offer wages that are lower than the drivers could make in other career paths. Drivers also face increased risks than other workers who make similar pay, and that leaves many drivers deciding the work isn’t worth it.
Beyond lower standard pay grades, some trucking companies only pay drivers based on mileage driven and not by the hour. This payment route causes increased risk to drivers but also lower pay overall for a driver. After all, they won’t get paid in bad weather or traffic jams. These two payment difficulties cause many drivers to leave trucking, which contributes to the shortage of drivers. This pay problem is also one of the reasons why fixing the shortage is so difficult: recruiting more younger and female drivers will only help so long as pay and retention are improved.
Another retention difficulty contributing to the shortage is the lifestyle of a truck driver. One of the biggest drawbacks of a truck driver lifestyle is all the time spent away from family and friends. Drivers—especially new drivers—only return home a few times a month. This time lost with loved ones can’t be replaced and causes many drivers to leave the industry. Beyond that, life on the road is less than comfortable, with drivers needing to get used to living in a small space most of the time.
In addition, the lifestyle also includes health risks. Drivers face risks on the road as a daily part of the job—from other drivers to poor weather and long hours. They also live a primarily sedentary lifestyle with little access to nutritious food. This can lead to future health problems. Drivers also run the risk of sleep deprivation, which is a serious danger on the road. These health risks cause some to leave trucking as well.
Why Is the Shortage Important?
There is obviously a shortage in drivers for a number of reasons, but why does this shortage matter to businesses? The truck driver shortage actually can have an impact on not only businesses large and small, but the average consumer as well due to the crucial nature of trucking in the supply chain. In fact, 71.6% of goods shipped in the country are transported on the highways. Without adequate truck transport, the already suffering supply chain will continue to get slower. The shortage then requires an increase in driver pay which can then cause higher prices for consumers. If left unaddressed, businesses will struggle to find potential employees and staff their fleets, leaving trucks sitting stagnant.
Overall, the truck driver shortage will affect the whole economy—the prices of goods and the speed at which goods reach the consumers.
How Do We Fix It?
To keep the economy running smoothly, trucking companies are looking for ways to reduce the shortage and get goods back on the road. Here are some of the ways small business owners in the industry can help fix the shortage:
Offer Higher Pay
One of the best ways to fix the shortage is to offer drivers higher pay. Small trucking companies can draw new drivers into the industry and keep them on the highways with competitive wages and start bonuses.
For companies looking for flexibility to give pay raises, working capital loans can help business owners gain flexibility as they grow a delivery fleet and reduce delivery driver shortage. A working capital loan can create the cash flow necessary for small businesses to offer higher pay and starting bonuses to bring in new drivers and keep your trucking company profitable.
Another way to draw in new drivers is to offer benefits. The lifestyle of a trucker doesn’t seem worth it to some potential drivers, but benefits can help make it an attractive option. For example, offering a tuition reimbursement benefit can attract young drivers who are looking for a way to pay for school. A working capital loan can help a small business get benefits programs started to help bring drivers to the company. Even for struggling business owners, bad credit loans can help them offer these benefits and get drivers on the road.
Recruit Among New Populations
Women are only one potential untapped population small businesses can recruit among. Minorities and veterans are also underutilized in the industry. By recruiting among these populations, small businesses can reach potential drivers and bring them into the workforce.
With this problematic truck driver shortage, small businesses have a unique opportunity to get ahead of other companies by providing competitive employment for drivers. Whatever it takes to get drivers on the road, small business loans from QuickBridge can provide the funding and flexibility to grow a fleet and combat the truck driver shortage. See how it can work for your business or speak to a loan specialist (888.233.9085) to get started.