It's a concerning topic across the transportation industry: the impending truck driver shortage.
The current driver deficit didn't happen overnight, but to carriers facing the oncoming crisis that's coming––well, like a speeding truck––it can certainly feel that way.
A "perfect storm" of detriments created a void in the normal flow of potential drivers, from baby boomers eyeing retirement or alternate jobs that allow them closer to homes and families to millennials who consider the demands of truck driving a poor match for their desired lifestyle.
In terms of truck-driving demographics, those edge-of-retirement baby boomers are also being pulled off the road by stiffer regulations on medical conditions like sleep apnea, which could affect alertness or even response time out on the road.
So, Why Is It Such a Big Deal?
A staggering 70% of all freight transported within the United States travels by truck, according to the latest statistics from the Bureau of Transportation. Forbes' Kevin O'Marah notes the current truck driver shortages is estimated to be 50,000 of the 850,000 currently on the road, which means that nearly 6% of needed drivers simply don't exist, leaving almost 5% of truck-transported freight without a delivery channel.
What's worse, the ages and retirement likelihood of those remaining drivers point firmly in the direction of the problem getting much, much worse in the next 5-10 years. Fever-pitch competition on hot products and raw materials doesn't mesh well with a lack of bodies to get those commodities from point A to point B.
So what happens now? Can anything be done to stop the bleeding and get more trained pros in driver seats that are already empty, or well on their way to being so?
Thankfully, the answer is a firm yes.
Technology Can Pave the Way
While hassles like paper log systems might not be the main reason veteran drivers are leaving the field, they're definitely a contributing factor to the jaw-dropping DoT-cited 90% first-year turnover rate for domestic trucking companies.
If 9 out of 10 drivers are opting out of the industry before they've even been in a year, it's not a stretch to think that user experience is to blame for at least some of them. Happily coinciding with a December 18th mandate, ELDs––electronic logging devices––are making the much-maligned paper log a thing of the past, allowing drivers to travel through many states nearly seamlessly.
With ELD features like mobile device interfaces and safeguards to prevent text-alert distractions on the road, the cab is no longer an unfamiliar, caught-in-time platform for forward-thinking millennials. During the actual drive, emerging practices like platooning––the high-tech linking of two trucks that allows for a very close following speed and near-simultaneous braking in the rear truck without driver input––help cut down on wind resistance and fuel consumption.
Platooning makes hauling more profitable for busy drivers, and also ensures a level of safety for both truck drivers and the other vehicles that they share the road. This practice also lowers the difficulty level for newer truck drivers, though they should receive training and ample solo time on their own hauls before linking up in a platoon formation to avoid accidents.
Visibility is Key
In terms of high school-aged young truck drivers-to-be, they might dismiss truck driving out of hand for a few key reasons. First, they don't understand how much money there is to be made in the profession! They may not see truck driving as the lucrative opportunity it really is––therefore, they pursue other careers that don't require 2- or 4-year degrees (such as welding, plumbing, etc.)
In reality, each of the trucks is filled with interesting, advanced technology. While young drivers learn the ins and outs of the road, they also get to see the country. It's incredible how many landscapes, states, and cities a driver explores on a long haul.
With the added two years of necessary experience for companies to accurately recruit from this age group, potential drivers will be 23 before they can even apply to a large number of trucking companies. They are bound to find other jobs first. Lastly, there is a disconnect between the average high school graduation age (18) and the required age at which drivers can receive a CDL (21). Unless they are enrolled in a degree program, new graduates don't want to wait three years to be able to start working in their field. This is an industry-wide problem that we need to address.
Outreach, though not a new or revolutionary concept in and of itself, is absolutely necessary to infuse the trucking industry with the talent it needs to weather the coming truck driver shortages. As industry leaders, we need to be sure we are helping potential young drivers see these benefits and understand the great talent demand that is happening in our field.
If your company doesn't currently do career day outreach or produce brochures for the counseling office or job center, there's never been a better time to start.
By the time your interested parties graduate and hopefully get a little experience under their belt, you'll have a rich crop of potentials to consider, some of whom might even already have commercial driving experience.
The cost of retaining your existing drivers and finding new ones might feel a little exhausting, but there are a lot of free resources out there to get you started.
A great resource is our powerful Freight Costs guide. Listen and learn from industry experts, ensure your staff feels welcomed and appreciated, and soon you'll have a fleet of drivers who you can depend on to pull through and perform through almost any condition––including the looming industry shortage.
Start reading and shoring up your fleet for 2017's changes: your clients will thank you.