The U.S. economy is back to its very dynamic self with the 2009 recession now a definite thing of the past. Along with economic growth comes rising consumer demand and housing and as a result trucking companies are starting to struggle to find drivers to bring goods to market. According to industry lobby group the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the industry is short about 35,000 truck drivers, and this shortfall could grow to around 240,000 drivers by 2020 if it is not addressed – a very significant and daunting number. The over 1 million of trucking jobs currently listed on employment sites attest to the challenges of attracting and retaining drivers for long-haul trucking companies.
Shortages of truck drivers often occur when the economy accelerates because some drivers opt for construction and factory work that don’t require living on the road. But this time it’s different, as the current shortfall is also triggered by regulatory and demographic changes. 2013 federal regulations have limited the hours truckers can drive, and a government system tracking driver records since December 2010 has deterred drivers with checkered safety records. Also, the average truck driver is now 55, more drivers are retiring and not enough younger workers are signing up.
Higher wages can fix the problem. According to ACT Research, in 1980 the average trucker earned four times the wage of a food service worker. But the $40,940 the average truck driver makes today is just 1.8 times that of food service workers. “You’re paying someone not very much to live in a box in a parking lot,” Kenny Vieth, president of ACT Research said. “This isn’t a truck driver shortage, it’s a truck driver pay shortage.” Trucking companies are starting to cover the up to $7,000 cost of obtaining a license for drivers who commit to driving for a fixed period, others offer signing bonuses, ranking from $500 to $12,000, depending on geography. Bonuses are higher in energy states like Texas or Pennsylvania, where competition for drivers is intense. Bob Costello, the American Trucking Associations’ chief economist, said recent pay increases across the industry have averaged 10 to 15%. But he expects pay to keep rising.
Parts of this article were first published on Reuters.