In the digital world that we're now living in where buying a particular product is as simple as clicking a computer mouse a few times, many people don't realize how many of the goods we consume are delivered from businesses to consumers by way of our nation's highways. According to one recent study, more than 70% of goods reach their destination under the care of a truck driver - a pace that requires hiring roughly 90,000 new drivers every year in order to keep up with demand.
However, that isn't necessarily what's happening. Far from it, in fact.
The concept of a truck driver shortage is nothing new. In fact, according to the American Trucking Association, it's something that the industry has struggled with periodically over the last 15 years. In 2005, however, the shortage amounted to roughly 20,000 drivers across the country. Flash forward just a few years to 2014 and that number had skyrocketed to 38,000.
So why, specifically, is there a truck driver shortage, what larger effects does it have and what can be done about it? The answers to these questions require us to keep a few key things in mind.
The Truck Driver Shortage: Breaking It Down
Most experts agree that one of the major reasons the shortage exists in the first place has to do with the rate at which the existing fleet is aging. The average age of a commercial truck driver is 55-years-old. As these people begin to retire in greater numbers, there are simply fewer and fewer people willing to take their place.
Equally complicating matters is the fact that it is difficult to attract newer, younger drivers because the lifestyle itself has something of a stigma attached to it. It's often difficult to convince a young person to be on the road for extended periods of time (and to deal with issues like fatigue and many related conditions like sleep apnea) as a result. There is also a lack of not just drivers, but QUALIFIED drivers. This only amplifies the affect of the shortage on the carriers themselves.
All of this has created something of a perfect storm in the worst way - an industry with a workforce that is about to retire in massive numbers and a lack of younger people who find the position appealing enough to take it up in the first place. But the implications of this go far beyond the profession itself.
The Impact of a Shortage
The most immediate impact of the truck driver shortage (beyond the shortage itself) has to do with its effect on supply chains everywhere. People are buying more "things" than ever before - whether they're appliances, electronics, or household products. Those "things" need to be transported via truck, yet the industry lacks the capacity to do so.
Not only does this exacerbate the shortage as there are fewer drivers hauling larger amounts of freight, but it also leads to massive supply chain issues like product shortages, extended delivery delays, and (ultimately) higher prices. Experts agree that we will soon be at the point where the shortage even begins to affect the economy itself.
What Can Be Done
According to another recent report from the American Trucking Association, the shortage of drivers was expected to hit 50,000 by the end of 2017 - a trend that equates to more than 174,000 drivers by as soon as 2026. It's clear that this is a problem that must be addressed at all costs, but luckily the ATA has a number of solid ideas.
First, fleets have already started taking the most obvious step to entice people to come into the profession - raising fleet pay and offering similar incentives like more competitive benefits packages, flexible hours and more. But even going beyond that, one of the most important ways to address this shortage involves fleets making an effort to improve the lifestyle and image of the truck driver.
The industry depends on younger people entering the profession soon after they graduate, but at the same time a life on the road isn't exactly the best way to raise a family. Fleets have begun to re-think the role and perception of a truck driver specifically to appeal to a younger audience in particular.
Additionally, policy changes are being enacted - like reducing driver age restrictions as part of a newly conceived graduated licensing system, as well as easing the transition period for veterans who wish to become truck drivers after military service.
The common theme across all of these steps involves making it easier to become a truck driver in the first place - something that will undoubtedly go a long way towards helping with the shortage across the board.