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“The trucking industry continues to dominate the freight transportation industry in terms of both tonnage and revenue,” according to the ATA’s Chief Economist, Bob Costello. Relative to air, water transportation, and pipeline, trucking holds the largest portion of the freight category. Growth in the transportation industry generally follows our country’s gross domestic product, so as the economy recovers, the need for drivers to haul goods and materials accelerates. Freight volume is projected to grow, with trucks assuming a greater proportion of the total load. Truckload volumes are expected to grow 3.2 percent annually through 2018. “Once we see a steadier, more robust economic growth, we could see an industry that is short by as many as 239,000 drivers by 2022,” predicts Costello.
A number of trends have converged to widen the gap between the growing demand for truck drivers and the supply of qualified drivers available. The retirement of Baby Boom generation workers is shrinking the labor force in all sectors of our economy, including transportation. Over the coming years, 25 million workers become eligible for retirement. Historically, truck driver turnover is high, which also equates to more positions for trucking companies to fill. A recent report showed a 98% turnover rate among long haul truckers. Competition from other industries puts pressure on the labor supply as well. As other sectors of the economy recover, an outmigration of drivers to construction and other industries is occurring. The shift by U.S. retailers to “just in time” inventory management, where goods are delivered as they are ordered to minimize the costs associated with storing and insuring a large inventory, fuels additional demand for drivers.

In an effort to improve public safety and the health of drivers, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration finalized regulatory changes to limit the number of hours individual drivers can be on the road from an average of 82 hours per week to 70 hours per week. Once drivers reach 70 hours, they are required to rest for 34 consecutive hours prior to resuming driving activities. The new rules went into effect July 1, 2013, and companies who violate them could be fined as much as $11,000 per offense. As a result of this change, hiring additional drivers becomes necessary to cover the difference in hours, with estimates indicating a need for 100,000 additional jobs. The expected shortage of drivers was 25,000 prior to the regulatory changes.

The occupational outlook for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that trucking industry jobs are growing faster than jobs overall. The government anticipates 21 percent growth in truck driver jobs between 2010 and 2020, with 330,100 new jobs to be added. In 2010, there were 1,604,800 truck driver jobs in the U.S., with median pay of $18.16 per hour, or $37,700 per year. Big companies like Swift paid bonuses last year, and upward pressure on wages and benefits typically accompanies labor shortages.

As demand increases, recruitment efforts by trucking companies are ramping up as well. Logistics Quarterly reports that the industry is focusing on hiring former military personnel, Hispanic workers, female drivers, and workers laid off from outsourcing in other industries. The American Trucking Association (ATA) and Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) partnered to create the Company Driver Tuition Finance Program to make driver training school more accessible by offering low interest financing. This program enables more potential drivers to qualify to enter the driver workforce. The ATA also works with AARP’s Alliance for an Experienced Workforce, which advances employment of persons over 50 years old. As it would in other industries, the short supply of labor may prompt trucking companies to be more creative with benefits and improving working conditions.

Truck driving affords workers independence. Instead of being stuck behind a desk or in a cubicle, they get to be on road. Unlike other professions, this is a position that is not easily outsourced. Drivers help society by delivering essential products and supplies. In recent years, truckers enjoy more amenities than before, such as internet connections, better sleeping accommodations, more comfortable vehicles, and GPS. The down side is that truck drivers often spend stretches of time away from loved ones. Conditions may vary as they travel, and mileage based pay can cause stress where traffic and weather conditions are unfavorable. Drivers frequently suffer from health issues, such as sleep apnea and obesity. In recognition of poor health statistics within the industry, employers are increasingly offering programs and services to help improve the health of their drivers, such as wellness coaches or health assessments.

We live in opportune times for truck drivers, who are expected to be in demand through 2020. With overall freight revenue growing, declines in the demographic groups traditionally filling truck driver positions, outmigration to other occupations as the economy recovers, and high driver turnover, the labor shortage is not likely to dissipate any time soon. Expect to see creative hiring approaches and incentives by recruiters, targeted at nontraditional groups, as well as programs to make education and entry into the business more accessible for aspiring drivers. Improvements in pay are likely to result as an increasing number of jobs remain unfilled. The job outlook is excellent for qualified drivers.

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