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Six Gnarly Reasons the Driver Shortage Continues to Plague Trucking

Updated: Sep 12, 2021


Convoy of trucks in motion on a highway ©123RF, ivanspasic

Convoy of trucks in motion on a highway ©123RF, ivanspasic

How a Trucking Dispatch Service Can Make a Difference


The persistent driver shortage has a vice grip on the trucking industry. And that only fuels uncertainty and volatility.


Since 2005, when the labor shortage was first documented, it has plagued the trucking industry persistently. The only exception was during the Great Recession when shipping bottomed out. That was an anomaly, as the Great Recession wiped out consumer demand.


According to the American Tucking Research Institute (ATRI), today’s shortage is 60,800 drivers. In 2005, the shortage was 20,000, meaning it has increased by 204% in 16 years.


So, the labor shortage is still with us sixteen years running. That promotes an unpredictable and unstable labor market. And that might affect drivers and owner operators for the long haul.


With that let’s take a look at six primary causes dogging this issue.


1 – Loss of Qualified Drivers to Retirement


For starters, according to the ATRI study above, the median age of over-the-road drivers is 46. The median age of workers in the U.S. economy, meanwhile, is 42. The driver population is older than the general workforce.


Another study by Emsi and Coyote Logistics reports that 57% of all drivers are over 45 with 43% over 55. The bottom line is the trucking industry will face a huge loss of drivers as older drivers retire.


Aggravating this pending massive loss is the lack of replacements by new accessions. Many younger people are not turning to trucking, as they did in the past. The same ATRI study reported the average age of new drivers is 35.


Finally, magnifying the trucking industry’s shortage is the under representation of women. Women comprise 47% of the workforce yet make up only 6.6% of the driver workforce. That’s a huge and persistent gap.


2 – Driver Pay that Matches Demands and Risks Placed on Drivers


It’s a well-known fact that dissatisfaction with pay is a hot button issue among drivers. Pay has increased over the years, but it’s tied strictly to driving time. More time on the road equals more pay. (More on this issue below.)


Drivers spend many hours on the road performing tasks related to their jobs. But those tasks aren’t reflected in their pay.Delays and detention factor into that. Also, factoring into that is that wages have not kept up with the cost of living.


As mentioned, pay is on the rise industry-wide, but that by itself is not enough to make a dent in the driver shortage.


3 – Robust Benefits that Assist Drivers and their Families


Robust benefits packages are another point of dissatisfaction with drivers. Given the long hours away from home and other hardships, you need benefits that pay alone can’t fix.

On the plus side, carriers are beefing up their benefits packages. However, as they do so, that lures drivers away from their current employer creating a churn further aggravating the driver shortage.


In short, drivers/owner operators like you expect a comprehensive benefits package addresses your hardships. And it must also include families.


4 – Tough Working Conditions that Challenge Drivers Daily


Challenging working conditions only add to job dissatisfaction. Challenges you face include:


· Long time on the road and away from home contributing to loneliness.

· Long waiting time due to congestion on roads, at ports, and terminals.

· Long loading and unloading times at shipping and receiving centers.

· Wasting time looking for parking areas.


The latter three issues all reduce driving time that Hours of Service rules impose. That lowers your productivity and your pay.


There are more concerns, but this list rounds out the major issues drivers mention. The issues listed here require extreme patience. Loneliness is major problem. And poor infrastructure and inefficient operations only aggravate that. Both contribute to irregular schedules


5 – Keeping Drivers on the Road with Consistent Work Schedules


Another pain point with drivers is getting the hours needed to earn a decent income. For many of you, schedules are irregular and uncertain. Also, you face many other obstacles affecting your productivity and earnings potential.


Besides affecting pay, irregular work schedules affect planning for family events and planning in general. Supporting your kids at sporting events and attending family and social activities become difficult. And basics like scheduling medical appointments also becomes difficult.


It goes without saying, impacts to your quality of life are burdensome. Yet many companies don’t take this into account in their benefits packages. And that further aggravates the driver shortage.


6 – COVID-19: The Worldwide Pandemic that Shutdown the Global Economy


This one was and remains an obstacle. First, COVID-19 led to a global shutdown that affected everyone. But as drivers/owner operators, you were especially hit hard. The pressure was on to deliver critical items like food, fuel, medical drugs, and equipment. So, drivers making those deliveries had jobs and worked at full throttle. But if you supported businesses outside those industries you were out of work.


In contrast, those of you who remained employed faced new challenges.