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Driver Shortage Makes it Harder to Keep on Trucking

According to the latest State of Logistics Report that is published annually by the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, the trucking industry is facing a driver shortage. To meet current and future demands efficiently, the industry needs to add approximately 30,000 more drivers.

Many factors contribute to barriers for barrier to meeting this shortage. Regulations by the Compliance, Safety and Accountability division of the U.S. Department of Transportation have significantly reduced the driver pool. Productivity is threatened by Hours-of-Service safety regulation from the DOT that began on July 1, 2013. Industry experts believe that the intrusiveness of government regulations will hurt – not help – the trucking business.

Drivers who might overcome these regulation barriers are nearing retirement as the trucking industry is also facing an aging workforce. Approximately 14 percent of the current driver workforce is between 55 and 65 years old. Many trucking companies will experience high turnover rates because of retirement within 10 years.

Another side of the picture is salary trends for truck drivers, which appear to show a disconnect with shortage predictions. Looking at the rate of pay for drivers, there appears to be minimum increases across all driver categories based on statistics tracked by the National Transportation Institute. The logic is that if there were truly a driver shortage, the law of supply and demand would increase salaries. Since driver salaries are practically the same since 2007, some believe that the driver shortage is overstated.

Beating the Retirement Clock

What is true is that the ages of current drivers is cause for some concern. The need for drivers is booming with increases in the oil and gas sector, and other industries. Retirement means that the industry will suffer from a knowledge and well-trained barrier that comes with older drivers leaving and newer drivers staying.

Truck driving schools are not producing an adequate number of drivers to replace losses from retirement. In addition to the nearly three million truck drivers, more are needed to meet growing demand. The current 30,000 shortage estimate will balloon unless concrete strategies to get more drivers is accomplished.

Could Tough Demands Discourage New Drivers?

The demands of driving can be tough on many drivers. They spend long periods of time away from family and friends. Schedules can be unpredictable. Generally, the nature of the job can lead to health problems and obesity. Add to this list long-term career viability. What changing forces could turn the growth tide in the trucking industry, and with it, a less attractive career option.

For many drivers, recent regulation changes to driving shifts are making their stressful jobs harder. Hours-of-Safety allow truck drivers to drive 11 hours a day while trucking companies expect 1,000 miles per day. Trying to meet that requirement is demanding and hard on the body, according to most drivers. Long driving hours can lead to fatigue and truck accidents.

Job prospects are good for drivers who graduate from truck driving schools. Many drivers may leave the industry because of the stressors mentioned above. However, new drivers will come in to fill most positions. The problem that trucking companies may face is high turnover rates once drivers are overcome with the hardships associated with driving.

What is Fueling Current Driver Demand?

Basically, there are four categories fueling the current demand for more truck drivers. In addition to voluntary retirements, 27 percent of truck drivers are leaving because of forced retirement or termination. The trucking industry is also experiencing growth that is exceeding capacity. With more business than drivers, trucking companies have to spend more time recruiting and training more drivers.

Are Drivers Becoming Obsolete?

As the industry wonders how to meet current demand with truck driver shortages, others are predicting that a shortage will no longer be a problem at all.

Currently, there are 5.7 million licensed commercial drivers in the U.S. who are in the driver's seat for delivery vans, delivery trucks and tractor trailers. Predictions over the next 20 years are that machines will slowly begin to take the wheel.

Robots, drones and autonomous trucks sound like something out of a new sci-fi movie, right? Well, unless Australia is ruled by space aliens, the concept is not far-fetched. In a barren stretch of land down under, Caterpillar Incorporated is testing 45 self-directed mining trucks that weigh 240 tons. Japanese engineers steered a freight of three driverless trucks at 50 mph that followed one human-driven truck.

Most of the current excitement focuses on passenger vehicles where Nissan plans to sell self-driving cars by 2020 and Ford doing the same five years later. However, commercial vehicles are getting the most attention in terms of possible economic advantages. However, this requires a massive reset of the U.S. economy by removing multibillion costs from 253 million commercial trucks on the road.

Yet, many believe that autonomous trucks are virtually inevitable, notwithstanding the glowing absence of a human driver. Even officials at the American Trucking Associations believes that there is money in using driverless trucks. In theory, these technological changes might lead to more productivity and less waste. An idle truck while a driver sleeps is considered a depreciating asset.

Concerns about these advances brings to mind the concept of creative destruction where market economies destroy old processes for newer, shinier ones. Although on-road drivers are not obsolete with the current wave of autonomous trucks, there is little doubt that this is the direction.

Who Benefits from Less Truck Drivers on the Road?

Removing truck drivers from the road is unchartered territory. Even as many industries attempt to restructure operations to fit the changing economical landscape, some may question the real benefits of driverless trucks.

On the surface, a world devoid of truck drivers might sound ideal to business owners. For starters, they will not have to pay salaries, health benefits and rising insurance costs from trucking accidents. Payroll taxes and workers compensation also become obsolete.

The average cost of a full-time truck driver is between $65,000 and $100,000 a year. Automating trucks may cost $400,000, which is still attractive to some owners when compared to long-term costs of employing humans. Owners of trucking companies that are having a hard time finding qualified drivers may abandon the search altogether for the comparatively cheaper cost of robot trucks.

However, some costs are hard to measure since autonomous trucks will have to run on roads separate from other vehicles. Even if this is required initially while the technology is being perfected, costs will not be cheap.

Safety will continue to be an issue with autonomous trucks as it is for human drivers. Considerations for other people on the road and cargo loads must be factored into the equation.

Conclusion

The question remains whether driver shortage is really due to a lack of qualified drivers, stressful work conditions or the winds of technological changes. Many industry analysts believe that federal regulations governing driver work days and safety enforcement measures are also affecting the supply of proficient drivers.

Whatever the cause, the secret is out that the U.S. is facing a truck driver shortage in the middle of some economic recovery. While truck company owners are looking at the effects to their bottom line, the individual consumer is facing similar considerations. Prolonged shortages will eventually leave a dent in every bank account.

Unless trucking companies and all stakeholders in the industry work together to resolve driver shortage problems, everyone will feel the brunt.

Everything that consumers buy from retail stores and online is delivered by truck drivers. Prices remain affordable when drivers deliver goods on time. Every load that is not delivered on time costs money for the trucking company. Those costs are usually transferred to consumers somewhere in the supply chain line.

Those costs are usually transferred to consumers somewhere in the supply chain line. Keeping costs down requires strategic planning to bring all players together. Hopefully, one of the last blue-collar jobs with a decent pay and benefits will not get replaced and can keep on trucking.