The Truck Driver Problem

As long as I've been covering transportation, the alleged truck driver shortage has been an issue for motor carriers and shippers alike.

I say "alleged" because there is no shortage now, but a driver glut, and because I'm not sure that the shortage even at other times is so much a shortage of people willing to do the work or a shortage of people who will work for the pay companies offer truck drivers.

American Trucking Associations and others argue that the driver pool is aging and that the demographic that traditionally supplied the trucking market — rural white males — is shrinking, and that freight forecasts for the next 20 years a sharp shortage of truck drivers in coming down the road.

But I've often wondered if it isn't more an issue that during a boom — as we experienced earlier in this decade, believe it or not — truckers are attracted by better-paying jobs in construction and other  industries.

During a recession, like this one, a lot of unemployed workers would love to drive a truck — if there were any freight to haul. Truckload carrier Celadon Group received 10,000 applications for 200 driving jobs in January.

In his "Trucks at Work" blog at fleetowner.com, Sean Kilcarr raised the issue of how truckers are classified by the federal government:

We want truck drivers to be safety-first professionals, understand computers for billing and record-keeping purposes, work a 14 hour day … yet the truck driver’s job still remains classified as “unskilled” by the Department of Labor. If we want to hire and put the best people behind the wheel – people that drive safe, display good interpersonal skills, and intimately understand technology – you cannot designate the truck driver’s job as “unskilled labor.” It doesn’t wash. This designation needs to change, allowing for a major change in pay and benefit requirements for truckers. Driving an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer at 65 mph requires skill – pure and simple. Why don’t we work for that?

I think this is a fantastic idea. If it's not - please tell me why. Send me a note at wcassidy@joc.com.

I certainly don't want the person driving an 80,000-pound rig in the lane next to me to be anything but very, very, very skilled.

This truck driver problem has been around for a long time. Here's an article from the Dec. 12, 1914 issue of "The Traffic World":

“Practically every truck manufacturer and nearly all employers complain of the great difficulty of securing drivers who are competent and who will work handling freight aside from those who drive horses. They are agreed that the profit or loss from truck transportation is largely dependent upon the drivers, and yet a majority of truck owners will hire the men who will work cheapest, entrusting valuable property in their keeping; and permitting them to determine how much work they will do. … The owners ... must expect to pay for the services of men who are worthy and are willing to promote the interests of their employers.”
 

Read "The Truck Driver Problem, Part 2."
Read "The Truck Driver Problem, Part 3."

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