With trucking volumes surging and carriers hiking trucker wages to lure drivers, the shortage of skilled drivers is the trucking industry’s top concern for the first time in 11 years, according to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).
Concerns over the supply of truck drivers and the resulting increases in trucking rates will probably grow in the coming months as the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate threatens to pinch capacity, with analysts expecting that smaller companies may be unable to meet the deadline as older drivers reluctant to learn new technology opt for retirement.
“Currently, our industry is short 50,000 drivers. And if the trends continue, that number will double to 100,000 in just five years,” said American Trucking Associations (ATA) president and CEO Chris Spear in his state of the industry address at an annual gathering of the ATA.
ATRI’s findings were based on a survey of 1,500 motor carriers and drivers that found the ELD mandate and hours-of-service regulations were other top concerns.
The most effective way to battle the shortage is through higher wages and better benefits, which have risen for four straight years, according to a separate ATRI report that found wages and benefits rose 7.6 percent on average year over year last year. Truck driver costs have continued to rise this year, as evidenced by the third-quarter earnings statements of J.B. Hunt Transport Services and Werner Enterprises.
Last year was the second year in a row driver costs represented the highest percentage of overall costs for trucking operators, ATRI found, and that trend is likely to continue as permanent solutions to the shortage will take time to put into action, and still longer for their impact to be felt.
Possible solutions to the shortage include the development of a graduated commercial driver's license program to attract younger drivers, and partnering with the Department of Labor to create a national driver recruitment program, ATRI said.
“We need interstate recognition of credentials, entry-level training standards for veterans and nonveteran employees, solutions for the impact of detention time and congestion on drivers’ hours of service, and more,” Spears said in his ATA address.
The ATA has the ear of the government, Spears said, noting that Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao have both said the shortage is a top concern.
“These two leaders are committed to working with ATA so our industry can responsibly recruit, hire, train, and retain talent,” Spear said.
Underscoring that commitment, Spear announced the creation of a Workforce Development subcommittee that, “will enable ATA to work closely with this administration, Congress, and state governments to solve this problem.”