The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has released a study regarding truck driver age demographics, and the results, while not surprising, are quite concerning. The facts correlate to an impending storm – we see the clouds and have gathered the requisite supplies, but there’s nothing left to do now but wait and hope for the best.
I started driving back in 1965 for Pacific Intermountain Express. Back then, driving a truck was an appealing career that often brought independence, security and wealth. I think the union wages were $3.65 per hour back then, but don’t forget, that was fifty years ago. I started as a bobtail driver in downtown Los Angeles and worked my way up to semis, then 40s, and finally doubles. Boy have times changed over those five decades!
Today, the overall truck driver shortage is apparent to those of us who work in the U.S. trucking industry. Right now, the industry is short about 30,000-35,000 drivers, with an expected 240,000 driver shortage by 2022. Stringent federal regulations, intense demand, an aging driver population, and increased access to academics have all aligned to create issues for motor carriers seeking to recruit new truck drivers.
State and federal regulations establish numerous driver qualifications, and FMCSA scoring programs create driver safety visibility that wasn’t once available to motor carriers, which serve as effective screening tools for hiring potential drivers. Carriers are becoming more and more risk adverse in terms of hiring truck drivers, and will often refuse to hire a driver with a poor record. Further, about 50 years ago, there were only 15,000 trucking companies – now there are over 750,000. The intense competition has cut into carriers’ profit margins, and many aren’t profitable enough or don’t have the liquidity to increase their drivers’ wages to the requisite amount needed to keep them.
Finally, more people are forgoing the opportunity to drive a truck in order to pursue secondary education. More and more colleges are now offering programs online or with weekend and/or late night class options to help accommodate the schedules of working students. The NorthAmerican Transportation Association (NTA) maintains a list of all of the colleges and universities in the United States that offer various transportation-related courses. Unfortunately, the majority of high school students, across the board, are less interested in attaining vocational education credits, and of those who do, few schools offer any sort of courses in transportation.
While fewer people are entering or staying in the trucking workforce, even fewer 25-34 years olds are interested in hopping into a big rig. The median driver age is 46.2 years, which is higher than the overall workforce, at 42.4 years. Private carriers’ median driver age is 52 years old. Over the past twenty or so years, drivers who were 25-34 years old have decreased significantly, nearly 50%, although in the overall U.S. labor force, the 25-34 year old age group has remained constant.
Some point the blame of this shortage at the fact that interstate CDL holders must be 21 years old, and if a carrier finds a qualified 21-year-old CDL holder, many insurance companies require drivers to have at least 3 years’ experience, so now you’re talking about being at least 24 or 25 years old, just to get started. For many impatient young people, that is just too long to wait!
In 2013, nearly 30% of the country’s truck drivers were 45-54 years of age, with over 56% of drivers being older than 45 years old. A question exists – what will carriers do once these individuals retire in the next fifteen or so years? If the industry isn’t hiring younger folks to replace them, and those drivers holding the cachet of “veteran status” are out of the work force, then carriers are going to be left with some tough issues in terms of hiring and recruitment of drivers. On top of that, as the economy rebounds, many drivers will take employment in another sector altogether and never return to truck driving.
Another common complaint we hear from drivers is lack of respect. Right or wrong, many drivers feel that dispatchers, managers and owners do not value and respect what they do for a living. Young drivers especially complain of this lack of respect.
So, what are carriers to do? The first step is to try and recruit those who are interested in driving a truck for a living, which may prove to be more difficult to do than once expected. Another step would be to gear marketing to the younger generations, which may require research into the compensation and benefits they expect, as well as their lifestyle needs. The key here seems to be lifestyle – while driver pay has not kept up to pace with other industries, the thought of living in a sleeper and getting home once or twice a month is simply not appealing to the 25 year-old driver. Team driving may offer a solution, but higher pay, more home time and respect seems to be the key in hiring and keeping good drivers.
In 2013, the national median pay for truckload van drivers running irregular routes was just over $46,000, while private fleet van drivers earned 58% more, at $73,000. While mileage-based pay packages are common, three-out-of-four fleets pay drivers in multiple ways. The most frequent approach taken by a carrier utilizing two base pay methods was compensation by mileage and by hour.
Last year, in 2014, it seemed that every week some motor carrier announced a driver pay increase, which is a good sign for the future. In regards to pay, annual employee driver compensation varied among carriers and trailer types. So, drivers should do their due diligence in searching for their next carrier to lease on to, because what you haul and who you haul it for can and will make a big difference in your pay.
Well, it’s now 2015. Hopefully, motor carriers will adjust their marketing focus and structure to not only bring new drivers into the industry, but to also entice existing drivers to stay. Many, looking to better themselves, will become independent contractors. Beware – if you are going to be an independent contractor (and I highly recommend that), you better be able to really prove that fact. Either way, the impending downpour is coming, so get your umbrella out now and be ready.