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article imageAre truck drivers in the U.S. in danger of becoming a rare breed?

By Megan Hamilton     Oct 10, 2015 in Business
The U.S. will face a shortage of nearly 50,000 truck drivers by the end of this year, according to a report by the American Trucking Associations (ATA). That's a sharp uptick from only two years ago when the shortage was pegged at 30,000 drivers.
Not having enough truckers can portend some pretty big problems, CNN Money reports. A shortage like this can affect deliveries of everything — essentials like food and gas, supermarkets and gas stations and even Amazon orders being sent to people's homes.
And trucking isn't something that can be outsourced overseas, so this has the potential to drive the cost of most goods higher and damage the U.S. economy.
This means businesses are willing to pay up, and trucker compensation has been going up about eight percent to 12 percent per year in the last few years. That's according to Bob Costello, the ATA's chief economist. It's certainly higher than the stagnating wages for most Americans, CNN reports. For a trucker working for a private fleet — such as Walmart, for instance — the median annual wage is $73,000 the ATA reports. The Labor Department places the median annual salary for all truck drivers at about $40,000.
However, trucking jobs can be difficult to fill. Of the 1.6 million truckers in America, about 750,000 are "for hire" truckers. This means they are employed by a trucking company that's hired by another company, perhaps a grocery chain, to deliver its product. It's not unusual for these truck drivers to be on the road for 10 days at a stretch before coming home, Costello said.
While work-life balance issues like paid leave and flexible schedules are gaining traction in the U.S. economy, trucking companies are finding it a challenge to recruit and keep workers, CNN reports.
Another difficult problem for the industry right now is finding ways to attract younger drivers, according to U.S. News and World Report. The median age of all American workers in 2014 was 42.3 years old, while for truck transportation employees it was 47.
"Right now, it's not really cool, fun or sexy to be a truck driver," said Tony McGee, CEO and founder of HNM Global Logistics, a transportation logistics firm based in Orlando, Florida. "You don't have kids that are wired in technology that want to do that."
One recruitment problem is that commercial driver's licenses, which are for the most part requirements for operating full-sized rigs, are offered to people who are at least 18 years old. However, interstate drivers have to be at least 21 before they can legally drive, the Department of Transportation reports.
"What 18-year-old that's not going to the military, that's not going to college, is going to sit around and wait?" Costello says. "They're off doing other things."
The Labor Department has recently estimated the U.S. has more than 1.6 million heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, the number is still down from a peak of 1.7 million in 2007, US News and World Report states.
Contrast that with the fact that the amount of freight being transported across the country has skyrocketed by more than 15 percent between May 2007 and May 2015, meaning trucking fleets in the U.S. are now forced to move more cargo with less manpower. With the industry facing problems that range from recruitment to static pay rates, some people are looking to better technology as a possible partial fix.
Companies have also faced obstacles to recruiting women, who make up a larger part of the workforce than they did during previous generations, CNN reports. Women make up 47 percent of the total workforce in the U.S., but only six percent of all truckers are women, data from the Labor Department and ATA states.
Add to that the fact that fewer people are willing to take to the road for days at a time and drive the long hours that this lifestyle demands.
"They're having a very difficult time being able to recruit or retain [young] drivers," Charlie Myers, vice president of Trucker Path, an app for the industry, told CNN.
The problem is going to get a lot worse before it gets better, wrote Jeff Berman, the Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review.
A shortage of 48,000 truckers may sound extreme, but in it's report, the ATA cited another number that's considerably steeper. If trends maintain their current path, the driver shortage may reach up to 175,000 by 2024.
In a statement that accompanied the report, ATA President and CEO Bill Graves noted that it's also a huge challenger to find qualified drivers. It's not just that there's a numbers problem, but there's also a quality problem because even though fleets are receiving applications for open positions, most of the candidates don't meet the criteria for being hired, Berman wrote. ATA data shows that 88 percent of motor carriers indicate that the majority of applicants aren't qualified.
The situation becomes more worrisome, since additional data in the report shows that 890,000 new drivers will need to be hired over the next decade--that's an average of 89,000 per year. About 45 percent of demand for new drivers comes from the need to replace those who are retiring, while industry growth is the second leading driver of new hiring. It accounts for 33 percent of the need.
While this is indeed daunting, it does provide a succinct course of action for possible solutions, Berman writes. These solutions include already happening driver pay increases; lowering the driving age from 21 to 18; allowing for more at-home time for drivers; improved public perception of drivers; and getting veterans to enter the market are a few of the possibilities.
More about Truck drivers, US truck drivers, American Trucking Associations, 30,000 drivers, 50,000 truck drivers
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