Today it is glaringly obvious to anyone in the trucking industry that we are facing a driver shortage. With trucking being such an important part of the North American commercial industry, how could there possibly be a need for drivers? Why is this an issue today? How did such a powerful industry get into such trouble?
The Good Ol’ Days
It’s one of the oldest industries in North America. In 1910, there were 10,000 trucks in the whole country, most of which were being used for local deliveries in large metropolitan areas. In 1914, there was less than 15,000 miles of paved road, and most trucks were still running on solid rubber tires – making for a very rough and bumpy ride. It was clear that this new industry had the potential be a staple in the growing North American economy.
Just what would the future hold for this exciting new industry? How could it possibly have led to a driver shortage today?
The Growth of Trucking
The future looked so positively optimistic for the truck driving world there wasn’t even a thought of a possible driver shortage. As the industry continued to develop, it began to capture the attention of the media. From 1940 – 1980, truck drivers hauling freight were glorified as heroes and modern day cowboys. Their free and wandering lifestyle was mythologized in countless songs and movies. Wearing plaid shirts and trucker hats wasn’t just for truck drivers anymore as even the general public started donning this iconic appearance. Who wouldn’t want a part of this lucrative career?
The big enticement for becoming a trucker was the prospect of earning a great wage, all the while being free from office politics and not having a boss constantly over your shoulder. It was obvious that this industry was growing. In fact, modern day statistics state that in 2006 the trucking industry had over 1.8 million trucks deployed and had over 139 billion miles logged.
It only makes sense that this industry would continue to see growth. Today there are roughly 3 million class 8 trucks registered in North America and close to 762,000 tractor-trailer drivers. It’s estimated that this industry will expand around 21% over the next ten years.
With such an enticing career and more than enough trucks to accommodate new drivers, why is it that there appears to be a such an increasing struggle to attract new blood to this industry? Why the driver shortage?
The Cold Hard Truth
One side of this problem is from current drivers leaving. Why are they leaving? The simple answer – age. The relatively high average age of the trucking workforce is 49. Aside from this, about 30% of the truck driving force is over 57, making it one of the oldest workforces in North America. Now it’s not that these older ones can’t do their job. Many of these experienced drivers love what they do and are still physically able to deal with whatever the road throws their way. It is largely because they are reaching the age of retirement that we are seeing them leave the industry.
This leads us to wonder, if so many appear to love the journey and freedom this industry has to offer, why aren’t more people lining up to jump into the truck driving world? Why the driver shortage?
In an interview with David Bradley (CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance), he likened the need for new drivers to a demographic tsunami. David also mentioned the difficulty of bridging this growing gap in the aging driver workforce.
Part of the problem is trucking just doesn’t hold the appeal it once possessed for this new generation commonly referred to as ‘millennials’. While becoming a trucker once meant a high wage and controlling your own hours, the times have changed. With deregulation in the 80s, new HOS regulations, and the ELD mandate, the once high wage and extent of freedom has been neutered.
Today’s view of trucking greatly varies in contrast to the ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ days. Most people close to their 30’s can remember back to their high school years when there seemed to be a strong influence from counselors and teachers to pursue higher education above all else. If it wasn’t higher education, then it was getting started in the trades. No one was talking about trucking, despite its importance in the economy.
Most millennials grew up viewing a career as a way to get the things they want, not as a way of life. They want a job that fits their image and lifestyle.
This is unfortunately where a truck driving job falls short. Although driving truck means it’s operator will get to journey all over the country, it also means working long hours and being away from family and friends for weeks at a time. It doesn’t take long for a job like this to become a way of life. This just isn’t acceptable to the new generational work force. With that in mind, it also means that just ‘throwing money’ at potential truck drivers via sign-on bonuses or offering more benefits won’t automatically sway everyone towards this job. This is especially true when there are so many other alternative employment options that are more adaptable towards someone’s lifestyle.
There is also a largely untapped work force, that of female drivers. Currently, women make up only 3 percent of the driving force. There are organizations such as the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada (WTFC) that are working hard to support and promote woman in the trucking industry. Hopefully their efforts will continue to help grow the numbers and attract more women to join the industry. While T&P Trucking currently does not have any female drivers, we would be delighted to receive applications from any potential drivers.
With all things considered, even if someone was interested in driving a truck, why would they want to get paid less to work long hours, sleep in a vehicle, and be away from home for weeks at a time when they could earn more as an electrician, all the while remaining close to home?
A Trucking “Career”?
While looking at the Canadian National Occupational Classification (NOC), it is interesting to note where trucking gets placed. Regardless of the many dangers involved in this industry, since it only requires ‘on-job’ training, it gets classified as a ‘Skill Level C’. This classification is in the same rank as a waiter. With no disrespect to waiters, I am sure you will agree that someone driving truck has much more dangers and safety standards to deal with than someone serving food.
This classification is one reason why trucking is not considered to be a trade, so there is no apprenticeship program available. This is an important factor for anyone new to the country or graduating from high school, as they will be looking for a career that can offer them a growing wage and room to move up in a company.
Quality vs Quantity
It is true that there are many eager and willing workers who would be happy with a trucking profession. But just because someone has a class 1 license doesn’t automatically guarantee them a job. There are many who already are qualified and still get turned away. Why is this the case?
It is due to the high safety standards many companies have and their strict hiring criteria. Trucking companies want to maintain good driving records. If an experienced driver has any safety violations or has received numerous tickets, most companies will turn them away, regardless if they need a driver or not. New drivers also bring a great deal of potential risks with them, as it is hard to know the strengths or weaknesses they may have. Even if it could help a company to expand and haul more freight, many will not risk their own safety ratings by bringing on bad drivers.
So we’ve talked about all the bad things, but what’s the good news for the trucking industry?
There is a continuing effort to change the classification of truck driving up from the current ‘low – skilled’ rating it has now. Once it changes, it will help generate some new interest in the industry. If more people came to accept driving a truck as a skilled trade, it would definitely go a long way towards enticing those entering the work force to flow into this industry.
Along with a classification change, it seems as though driverless trucks may also be a part of our near future. While we don’t want to place human workers out of a job, this may be a great help to the industry. Driverless trucks could be a great help specifically for routes that keep drivers away from home, such as long haul trips, common routes, etc.
Are you a truck driver? How long have you been in the industry? Let us know where you think this industry is headed in the comments.