It’s a good time to be part of the trucking industry. A combination of low fuel prices, a recovering economy, and a shortage of drivers pushed trucking revenue in 2014 to a new record of $700.4 billion. This despite an overall slowdown in revenue growth—from 6.2 percent in 2013 to only 2.6 percent in 2014.
The record-breaking numbers, however, reflect a disturbing trend in the industry: young drivers are increasingly scarce. The average age of US truckers is 49, compared to a national average working age of 42. More truckers are in their sixties than in their twenties. Younger people simply don’t seem to see trucking as a viable career choice.
What accounts for this attitude? Public opinion of truck driving is that the job lacks prestige and respect. At the same time, a resurgence in job opportunities offers young workers a chance to make money and sleep at home every night—a definite advantage when compared to spending long hours of the road.
Whatever the reason, the ATA estimates we’re short 40,000 long haul drivers nationwide. That’s a significant number, and its effect can be seen across the industry. Fewer drivers translates into higher rates for shippers, as companies scramble to hire—and retain—new drivers. Large companies are so desperate they’re offering $1,500 to $2,000 hiring bonuses to any driver who signs on and stays on the job for ninety days.
For established drivers, the shortage is proving profitable. The shortfall of available drivers means companies have to keep those drivers they do have happy. Many long-time drivers saw their salaries increase eight to twelve percent last year.
Those same drivers, however, are starting to retire. The ATA worries that, unless the industry attracts new drivers, and soon, the shortfall could reach 240,000 drivers by 2020. If this happens, the nation’s supply chain will be under extreme stress.
We need new drivers, and we need them now. Recruiting them is going to require significant effort on the part of the industry, and a change in how young people view trucking as a career and lifestyle.