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Why is There Still a Truck Driver Shortage?

Why is There Still a Truck Driver Shortage?

March 16, 2021
The industry faces a number of issues including competition from warehouses.

To understand the factors that continue to contribute to the truck driver shortage, third-party logistics provider Coyote Logistics and labor market analytics firm Emsi issued a new study on March 15.

The report, “Drivers Wanted Using data to understand the commercial truck driver shortage,” found that there were a number of factors that contribute to the current situation.

First a look at the general market.  There are 6.4 million in the broad transportation and warehousing industry, which amounts to roughly three percent of the total U.S. labor force. As an industry, transportation and warehousing is the11th largest sector in the labor market. And that sector grew by 3.2% since 2019.

Digging in a little deeper into this number, heavy tractor-trailer, which makes up 30% of the jobs in transportation and drivers, grew by 2.1%, for a total of 1.9 million jobs.

Growth stopped however for 2020 due to COVID-19, with overall demand for trucking down 38% in 2020 (compared to 2019). While companies like Amazon grew, small logistics companies closed. But the employment situation is complicated Across 2020, job postings for truck transportation grew by nearly 60% (January and February started pretty slow regardless of the COVID situation). But comparing 2019 to 2020, there is a very large 38% decrease in posting activity.

From a wider perspective, over the past several years there have been about six job postings for every hire. And there is concern that the problem will continue in the future given the fact that nearly 57% of all truckers are over 45,  and 23% are over 55. In other words, nearly a quarter of the current trucking workforce will hit retirement age in the next 10 years, not including the nearly 8% of truckers who are currently working above retirement age. Add to that the fact that young workers are not being recruited at rates that will replace current workers, plus there is a relative dearth of younger workers overall compared to the abundance of baby boomers.

Trucking also faces competition from warehouses. Those workers are younger; 62% of warehousing jobs are filled by workers under 45.  And this sector has a higher hire rate than truck drivers. For most of the last four years, there have been about two hires for every job posting. This indicates that employers are able to fill these jobs via methods such as word-of-mouth referrals and local job boards, and don’t rely as much on job postings.

 The study delves into the reasons why it’s hard to hire commercial drivers:

Wages may be growing too slowly

Wages are a possible culprit for hiring difficulties in the trucking industry. According to a recent Centerline study, 76% of truckers say that competitive pay is the top factor in their decision to take a job, yet 1 in 2 say that current wages are not competitive. Trucking compensation is not a simple matter of abysmal wages. But the industry is dealing with a perception of slow wage growth for a job that was once a proverbial example of blue]collar work that provided high wages and a comfortable middle-class lifestyle.

A difficult life on the road

According to a Centerline study, 50% of commercial long-haul drivers do not feel safe on the road. Trucking was the sixth most dangerous occupation group in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With an undersupply of drivers, shippers may be tempted to tacitly condone or positively encourage longer routes with fewer breaks, and other risky behaviors, to maintain delivery schedules. Similarly, quality of life issues can make long-distance trucking a hard sell. 76% of truckers prefer local trucking or short-haul.  Health is an issue as well. Obesity and smoking are both twice as prevalent in long-haul truckers as in the general population, and truckers are at an increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

Barriers to entry

Across local markets, the most consistent and often the largest skill gap was for a CDL license. It’s also by far the most-posted for skill nationally, appearing in nearly four million posts (the runner-up, flatbed truck operation, appears in just over a million). A commercial driver’s license (CDL) for the operation of heavy-duty tractor-trailers is not, like a basic driver’s license, simply acquired in the normal course of adulthood. In most cases, it requires the investment of time and money in a truck-driving school. The licensing requirement, more than wages, is perhaps the single biggest difference between the warehousing and trucking recruitment process.

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